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For the second time in less than two months, a senior-level Vatican official has stated that a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is “in the works.”
On June 14, Zenit News Agency reported that Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council of the Promotion of Christian Unity, said there was hope Benedict and Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, may meet within a year.
The cardinal added that this largely depends upon “some external circumstances and on the internal situation of the Russian Church.” Nonetheless, he confirmed that both the pontiff and the Russian spiritual leader were open to meeting. “No one is against the meeting,” he said, “not even the Orthodox faithful.”
Weeks later, on August 7, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, vice-dean of the College of Cardinals, confirmed, “We are moving towards this aim. The steps are speeding up, but we cannot say when it will happen” (Reuters).
The Great Schism of 1054 divided traditional Christianity into western (Roman Catholic) and eastern (Orthodox) branches, fueling bitter rivalries between the churches over the centuries.
As the Vatican continues the late Pope John Paul II’s efforts toward healing the rift between east and west, cooperation between the two groups—with well over a billion adherents combined—deserves close attention.