Russian Orthodox official urges joint effort with Vatican to make Europe recognize it's Christian roots

Metropolitan Kirill, the top foreign relations official in the Russian church, spoke to a news conference after meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday evening at the Vatican.

The Vatican released no details of the meeting other than to say that it occurred.

Benedict has made uniting all Christians and healing the 1,000-year-old rift with the Orthodox a primary goal of his papacy. He has also emphasized the need for Europe to rediscover its Christian heritage.

Last week, Patriarch Alexy II, who heads the Russian church, said he felt encouraged by Benedict's readiness to improve 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 Church has accused the Catholic Church of poaching converts in Russia and of encroaching on traditionally Orthodox territory in western Ukraine, which borders part of predominantly Roman Catholic Poland.

The Vatican 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.

Kirill said both the pope and Alexy agreed the dialogue between the two must continue, the AP reports.

"Everything that is happening now in the dialogue between the two churches we hope will bear fruit," he said.

One of the few pilgrimages to elude the late John Paul II in his long papacy was one toMoscow. 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.

Kirill echoed that message. "The possibility of such a meeting has never been flatly refused, but both sides have underlined that it must be well-prepared. Not in terms of protocol, but on the content of the meeting," he said.