Moscow Patriarch Describes Putin´s Invitation to Pope as "Wise"

But Maintains His Accusations Against Vatican

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MOSCOW, JAN. 18, 2002 ( Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II said today that Vladimir Putin made a «wise» decision when he announced his desire to invite John Paul II to Moscow.

Earlier in the week the Russian president said he was willing to invite the Pontiff to Moscow «at any time,» and to do everything possible to renew relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Rome. He acknowledged, however, that this did not depend on him alone.

By referring to «the absence of problems between Russia and the Vatican in the field of governmental relations, the president implied that a possible [papal] visit might be fruitful only if the problems between the two Churches are resolved,» the patriarch emphasized in statements published by the Itar-Tass agency.

The Orthodox patriarch added that Putin «has wisely recalled that John Paul II is not only head of the Vatican State, but he also directs the Catholic Church. This means that an invitation [to Russia] must be made by the state and the Orthodox Church, one of the largest of the world, which has celebrated the liturgy on Russian soil for more than 1,000 years.»

The Russian Orthodox Church has opposed a papal visit. The Orthodox Church resents the rebirth of Catholic communities of the former Soviet Union, which were subjected to harsh persecutions. In some places, Eastern-rite Catholics were obliged by the Communist regime to become part of the Orthodox Church.

«The reproaches we have expressed to the Vatican are still outstanding,» the patriarch said. He accused «the Vatican of continuing its proselytizing activity in Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia.»

In an unexpected move, the patriarch decided to send a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the prayer meeting of religious leaders, convoked by John Paul II and to be held in Assisi on Jan. 24.

The Vatican revealed today that the patriarch´s representative will be Archbishop Bitirim, metropolitan of Volokolamsk and Jurjev. Bishop Innokentij, of the Russian Orthodox faithful in France, will also attend the Assisi prayer meeting.

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