Alexis II Feels Pressure Over Papal Visit

Patriarch Says Russian Leaders Trying to Coax Him

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MOSCOW, MAR. 6, 2001 ( Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow complained today that Russian politicians are pressuring him to accept a visit from John Paul II, a trip the Orthodox leader said would not take place until differences between the two Churches are surmounted.

In statements published by Itar-Tass agency, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed his irritation over political leaders´ suggestions that he soften his position.

The patriarch gave no details, but Russian experts believe he is referring to President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov. All three have had cordial meetings with the Pope and believe his visit would prove Russia´s interest in opening to the West.

None of the three politicians has officially invited the Pontiff to Moscow. But the three have publicly expressed their hope of a rapprochement between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

Today, Alexis II renewed his criticisms of this June´s papal trip to Ukraine, a country that is traditionally Orthodox and linked to Moscow. The patriarch described the visit as “inopportune” and added his voice to the appeal of Ukraine´s Metropolitan Vladimir, requesting its postponement.

Alexis II said one reason why he cannot receive the Pope is the so-called “policy of expansion of the Church of Rome in Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan.”

In those countries, Catholics, who were persecuted at the time of the Soviet regime and, on occasion (as in the case of those of the Eastern rite) forced to enter the Orthodox Church, are experiencing a rebirth. The Church´s structures are slowly being re-established. Yet, the patriarch regards them as Orthodox lands, with space only for Orthodox believers.

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches separated, at the beginning of the last millennium, over theological problems that have since been surmounted, and differing ideas on the application of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

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