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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 June, 2005, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Papal envoy begins Moscow mission
Cardinal Walter Kasper
Cardinal Kasper heads the Pope's office for ties with other Christians
A senior Vatican envoy is on a four-day visit to Moscow amid continuing tensions between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.

Cardinal Walter Kasper will meet Metropolitan Kirill, but not the Orthodox leader, Patriarch Alexy II.

Vatican-Moscow relations have long been tense. Orthodox leaders accused the late Pope John Paul II of trying to poach converts on Orthodox territory.

Pope Benedict has made reaching out to other Christian churches a priority.

Patriarch Alexy consistently vetoed any plans for a visit by John Paul to Moscow, although a string of Russian presidents had invited him to visit Russia.

But the patriarch has welcomed a statement by Pope Benedict that he will try to heal the 1,000-year-old rift between the two churches.

Vatican observers are not optimistic however that any rapid improvement in relations between the two churches will take place, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.

The Moscow Patriarchate maintains that Orthodox worshippers in Western Ukraine suffer discrimination at the hands of the Ukrainian Eastern-rite Catholics, known as the Uniates.

The Uniates, with deep-rooted traditions in the region, have Orthodox rites but regard the Pope as their leader.

Catholics reject the patriarchate's accusations, saying their missionaries work only among people undecided in their faith.

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