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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 18:12 GMT
Papal envoy seeks new Russia ties
Cardinal Walter Kasper (L) gives Communion at a Moscow cathedral
Cardinal Kasper wants to "turn the page" in tense relations
A senior Vatican envoy is to meet the head of the Russian Orthodox church in a move aimed at easing tensions between the two churches.

The rare meeting was announced during German Cardinal Walter Kasper's visit to Moscow on Thursday.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II has blocked Pope John Paul II's long-standing wish to go Russia.

Last month he said ties with the Roman Catholic Church would have to improve before he would agree to a papal visit.

The Pope's wish to visit Russia has the backing of President Vladimir Putin.

But during a trip to the Vatican in November 2003, Mr Putin said he did not expect the Pope to visit Russia soon.

"I see my objective not in helping to get the pope to Russia but in helping steps towards unity. And naturally this is possible only if there is an understanding between churches," he said.

Missionary row

Patriarch Alexy has accused Catholics of aggressive missionary activity in Russia and other predominantly Orthodox former Soviet republics.

The Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches have common values and we want to cooperate in order to promote these values in Europe
Cardinal Walter Kasper

He has steadfastly refused to meet the Pope unless the Vatican changes what he calls its missionary policies.

Relations reached an all-time low two years ago, when Cardinal Kasper's visit was cancelled amid anger at the creation of four Catholic dioceses in Russia.

But the Vatican insists its activities in the country cater largely for traditional Catholic minorities like Poles, Germans and Lithuanians, who have faced discrimination and persecution in the past.

There are, it says, just 600,000 Catholics in Russia - or 0.4% of the population.


In talks with Orthodox officials on Wednesday, Cardinal Kasper expressed hope that the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches could solve their differences.

"The Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches have common values - humanitarian and Christian ones - and we want to cooperate in order to promote these values in Europe".

He suggested setting up a hotline to allow any problems to be discussed quickly.

"It's impossible to resolve problems when after every mistake the other side breaks up the dialogue," he said.

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