Vatican foreign minister meets Russian Orthodox official for talks on improving ties
By: MARIA DANILOVA - Associated Press
MOSCOW -- The Vatican's foreign minister held talks Friday with Russian Orthodox Church leaders and government officials in an effort to expand ties between the Holy See and Moscow.
With hopes that long-standing friction between the Vatican and the Russian church is beginning to ease, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo met with Metropolitan Kirill, who heads the Russian church's foreign relations department.
"Cooperation between representatives of the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church already exists and is very good," Lajolo said at the beginning of talks with Kirill. "But of course it can come closer and more direct, first of all, so that the very essence of Christian values becomes more understandable."
Pope John Paul II had long sought to visit Russia, and Pope Benedict XVI has continued his outreach to the Orthodox, saying that unifying all Christians was a "fundamental" priority of his pontificate.
The head of the Russian church, Patriarch Alexy II, maintains that a papal visit to Russia would be possible only after the Catholic Church stops poaching for converts in Russia and other ex-Soviet lands and ends discrimination against the Orthodox in western Ukraine.
The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing allegations, saying it was only ministering to Russia's tiny Catholic community -- about 600,000 people in a country of 144 million.
Lajolo said at the end of the talks that he and Kirill did not discuss the specific problems on how to improve relations between the two churches. "But we talked about the importance of the method of overcoming difficulties, which arise in life and which should be resolved with a brotherly love," the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted him as saying.
The talks also focused on the two churches' cooperation in the international sphere.
Kirill praised cooperation with the Vatican working through the European Union and the Council of Europe. Lajolo said the Russian Orthodox Church had made "an unparalleled contribution with its moral and spiritual values" to the process of working out the EU constitution.
"We highly appraise the very opportunity for dialogue with you as a high representative of the Vatican," Kirill told the Vatican diplomat. "We had a positive experience of cooperation with representatives of the Catholic Church when the draft of the EU Constitution was being prepared."
After Lajolo's earlier meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Ministry said their talks "confirmed the friendly character of relations between Russia and the Vatican, and joint striving for their further development."
At the Vatican Friday, Benedict had a private audience with Russia's new ambassador to the Holy See. While Nikolay Sadchikov presented a letter to the pope, he did not present an official letter of credentials since the two sides do not have full diplomatic relations, a Vatican official said.
Lajolo also was quoted as saying that the Vatican and Russia should establish full diplomatic relations because the current ties do not correspond to the weight each wields in the world.
"It seems evident to me that the current status of the reciprocal representations in Moscow and the Vatican doesn't correspond to the weight which the Holy See attributes to its relations with the Moscow government," he said.
The Holy See and the then-Soviet Union established official ties in 1990, but they fell short of full diplomatic relations. The Vatican says the two have "relations of a special nature" in which Russia maintains a mission with an ambassador in Rome and the Vatican a papal nuncio in Moscow.