Moscow Patriarchate to Join in Assisi Day of Prayer

Putin May Have Had a Role

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2002 ( A delegation of the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate will participate in religious leaders´ Day of Prayer for Peace, convoked by John Paul II for Jan. 24 in Assisi.

The news, published Wednesday by Vatican sources, is decisive for the future of the ecumenical dialogue. In recent years, Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II refused to establish contacts with the Holy See, although he maintained at-times cordial relations with local Catholic bishops.

The Vatican on Friday is expected to publish a preliminary list of participants at the Assisi event.

The Moscow Patriarchate´s positive response might be due, in part, to pressures exerted by President Vladimir Putin. In an interview Tuesday with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wybozcza, Putin announced his willingness to invite the Pope to visit Moscow and to renew relations between the Orthodox patriarchate and Rome.

In statements published today by press agencies, Alexy II stated that for the time being, John Paul II´s visit to Russia cannot take place because of the Catholic Church´s «attitude.»

The patriarchate resents the rebirth of Catholic communities in territory where Christians, it believes, are «canonically» Orthodox.

Meanwhile, the Italian newspaper Avvenire revealed that a delegation of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Athens might also participate in the Assisi Day of Prayer, although there are sectors of its ruling Holy Synod that are very critical of Rome, despite John Paul II´s trip to Greece last year.

The Greek synod recently asked Archbishop Christodoulos not to exchange (yet) the visit to the Pontiff in the Vatican.

The Assisi Day of Prayer will be the most important ecumenical summit in recent times. The patriarchates of Constantinople, Bulgaria, Romania, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Serbia have already confirmed their attendance.

Key Protestant communities will also be represented at the prayer gathering. Leaders of Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism and Islam, as well as other groups, also plan to attend.

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