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Saturday, 2 March, 2002, 19:15 GMT
Pope 'invades' Russia by TV
Tale of two churches: the Vatican (left) and the Russian Orthodox Church
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has condemned a live link-up between Pope John-Paul II and Roman Catholics in Russia.

He said the television link amounted to a "virtual visit" by the Roman Catholic leader, with whom the Russian church has strained relations.

We view this as an invasion of Russia

Patriarch Aleksiy
head of the Russian Orthodox Church

The Vatican has defended the broadcast, during which the Pope leads prayers for young Catholics in Russia as well as congregations in Athens, Athens, Budapest, Strasbourg and Valencia.

But Patriarch Aleksiy of the Russian Orthodox Church said it was an "invasion of Russia" and referred to the Polish occupation of Moscow in the early 17th century. John-Paul is of Polish origin.

Hundreds of Roman Catholics were at Moscow's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception as the "television bridge" began on Saturday evening.

Many were in tears as the pope appeared on the screen.


His church has long opposed a visit by the Pope to Russia, where there an estimated 600,000 Roman Catholics among the population of some 148 million.

It objected to the Pope's visits last year to Kazakhstan and then the Ukraine, where there is a bitter wrangle over church property.

Ukrainian Orthodox nuns protest the Pope's visit in Kiev
The Orthodox Church protested against the Pope's visit to the Ukraine
The Moscow church threatened to cut ties after the Vatican announced in February that it was seeking to create four fully fledged dioceses in Russia.

Saturday's broadcast looked in doubt at one point when Russian airport customs delayed satellite television equipment coming through the airport.

The BBC's Russian Affairs Analyst, Stephen Dalziel, says that such is the bitterness generated by the issue that a live link-up on a television screen will now be the closest the present Pope will ever get to making a visit to Russia.

See also:

27 Jun 01 | Europe
Analysis: Bridging the schism
24 Jun 01 | Europe
Orthodox church snubs Pope
22 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Ukraine: A contentious papal trip
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