Thaw with Moscow Is Beginning, Says Cardinal Kasper

Vicar´s Presence at Assisi Seen as a Positive Sign

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ROME, JAN. 24, 2002 ( The presence of the vicar of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church at the Assisi day for prayer was a good sign, says a Vatican aide.

«Let´s say that the thaw between Rome and Moscow is under way, although problems remain,» Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

«Certainly the Assisi initiative gives further impulse to the ecumenical dialogue: All Christians understood well that peace calls for the witness of unity,» he said. «However, apart from this, there are many other signs that indicate the willingness of the Orthodox Churches, in the main, to continue on the path of ecumenism.»

The German cardinal, 68, seemed pleased by the Day of Prayer in Assisi. The meeting was the most important pan-Christian event, something John Paul II was unable to achieve during the Jubilee Year 2000.

For the first time, many patriarchs and metropolitans of Orthodox Churches were present in Assisi. To date, the Orthodox patriarchate had never participated in a convocation of the Bishop of Rome.

The Greek Orthodox did not respond to the call, however. «Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens wrote us a very cordial and affectionate letter explaining the reasons that impeded his sending a delegation to Assisi, but assuring us of his spiritual closeness,» Cardinal Kasper said. «John Paul II´s historic visit to Athens last May has left the sign; many hostilities have fallen. Of course, it is not easy to overcome all resistance at once.»

At Assisi all religions committed themselves never to use God´s name for violent reasons.

”This gesture is very significant for world public opinion,» Cardinal Kasper observed. «Believers of any religious belief will feel directly challenged and even nonbelievers must address this gesture of Assisi. It is a solemn and formal commitment that is entrusted to prayer and can change the course of events. Because, let us not forget it, peace begins in man´s heart when he allows himself to be touched by God.»

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