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Russian Church to work to remove 'obstacles' to Pope meeting


MOSCOW, February 13 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)

will work to remove "obstacles" to a meeting between its new leader and the Pope, a senior Russian church official said on Friday.

Bishop Ilarion of Vienna and Austria, the ROC representative for international organizations, said during a Moscow-Paris TV link devoted to the Church's policies under Patriarch Kirill that "Our objective is to organize the meeting as soon as possible."

The cleric, however, said the problems that had made the meeting impossible under the late Patriarch Alexy II remained unsettled, including attempts by Roman Catholics to expand in the former Soviet Union at the expense of the Orthodox Church and "the difficult situation in Ukraine."

Relations between the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity have been strained in recent years as the Russian church accused the Vatican of stepping up efforts to convert believers in what it calls its canonical territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russian church also accused Eastern Rite Catholics, loyal to the Vatican but using Orthodox-style liturgy, of spreading beyond western Ukraine into eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Alexy II refused to meet with then Pope John Paul II, and said the disputes should be resolved before a historic meeting with the current Catholic Church leader, Pope Benedict XVI.

Asked to name a possible date for the long-awaited meeting, Bishop Ilarion said "it is not a matter of time, but a matter of the aim."

"We believe we should come to a common position and then organize the meeting. There is no point in holding a simply formal meeting in front of television cameras. We must prepare the meeting well," the cleric said.

He said if the meeting took place, it would be a breakthrough in relations between the ROC and the Holy See.

Ilarion said the two churches must strengthen their ties and join hands in protecting Christian values in Europe. "We need relations that will make Orthodox and Catholics allies, not rivals."

Kirill was crowned as Russia's new church leader on February 1. He replaced Alexy II, who died in December at the age of 79, after leading a revival of faith in Russia following the collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union.

The choice of Kirill, who is seen as a liberal figure in the largely traditionalist Russian church, was welcomed by the Vatican. As head of the Russian Orthodox Church's external relations for more than a decade, Kirill led dialogue with the Vatican and other churches.

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