Improving Relations Between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches

( [email protected] ) Feb 21, 2004 11:21 PM EST

In an effort to ease the heightened tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, the German Cardinal Walter Kasper announced he would meet with the Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.

Kasper’s cautious announcement came during his visit to Moscow on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004.

"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," said Cardinal Kasper.

The meeting may mark a pivotal moment in the ecumenical efforts between the two churches. To date, Patriarch Alexy accuses Catholics of aggressive missionary activity in Russia as well as other predominantly Orthodox former Soviet republics, and prevents the Pope John Paul II from visiting Russia.

Last month, Patriarch Alexy said ties with the Roman Catholic Church would have to improve before he would agree to a papal visit. He has steadfastly refused to meet the Pope unless the Vatican changes what he calls its missionary policies.

Cardinal Kasper was granted a visit to Russia two years ago, but the trip was cancelled amid anger over the creation of four Catholic dioceses in Russia. The Vatican insisted the diocese were there to cater largely traditional Catholic minorities, like Poles, Germans and Lithuanians, who have faced heavy discrimination and persecution in the past. According to the Vatican, there are only 600,000 or 0.4 percent Catholics in Russia.

During his visit to Moscow, Kasper expressed hopes that the two churches could resolve their differences by focusing on their shared values and traditions.

“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,” said Kasper.