Pope Benedict XVI to meet with top Russian Orthodox official

Pope Benedict XVI will meet with a senior Russian Orthodox official at the Vatican on Thursday as the Holy See seeks to improve often tense ties with the church in Moscow . The Vatican press office on Wednesday made available the schedule of Metropolitan Kirill's visit in Rome , including an audience early Thursday evening at the Vatican with the pope. The metropolitan is the top foreign relations official in the Russian Orthodox church.

Last week, Alexy II, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox church, said he felt encouraged by Benedict's readiness to develop ties, but insisted that any prospects for a meeting between the two religious leaders hinged on progress in settling conflicts between the two churches. The Orthodox in Russia have accused the Catholic church of poaching for converts there and of encroaching on Orthodox in western Ukraine , which borders part of predominantly Roman Catholic Poland.

The Holy See has insisted that its work in Russia is aimed at looking after its tiny flock there. There are also property disputes behind some of the tensions. One of the few pilgrimages to elude the late John Paul II in his long papacy was one to Moscow , as the tensions prevented him from making a visit there following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Communist regime. Alexy last week said that a meeting with Benedict remained a possibility but that first it would be necessary to overcome sharp differences between the churches, reports the AP.


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