MOSCOW, FEB. 21, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the new apostolic nuncio in Russia, paid his first official visit to Alexy II, Orthodox patriarch of Moscow and All Russias.
The archbishop handed the patriarch a private message from John Paul II. An official statement reported that the archbishop and patriarch “examined the principal issues of interest to both Churches.”
Alexy II expressed again his concern about the two problems that, from his point of view, disturb relations with Rome: the “continuous practice of Catholic proselytism in Russia” and the “painful situation of the Orthodox in Western Ukraine, where over the past 10 years, Greek Catholics have devastated three Orthodox dioceses.”
The above refers to the controversy over Catholics of the Eastern rite in Ukraine, especially numerous in Lviv.
Following the Soviet conquest of the region in 1944, the Catholic Church of the Eastern rite was suppressed by Stalin. Many priests who refused to “convert” to Orthodoxy were killed or deported, including Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj (later freed by Nikita Khrushchev).
Eastern-rite Catholics, whose metropolitan is Cardinal Lubomir Husar, have experienced a rebirth since the fall of the Soviet regime, and have obtained the restitution of places of worship, which at times has been opposed by the patriarch of Moscow.
Despite the controversies, Patriarch Alexy II and Archbishop Mennini look forward to “the collaboration of the two Churches, the continuation of dialogue between them, and the elimination of obstacles that are still in their path today.”
Igor Vyzhanov, the Orthodox patriarchate’s spokesman who was present at the meeting, told ZENIT that the conversation was “purely diplomatic.” He added that it is “very difficult to expect decisions that might change relations between the two Churches.”