Pope and Russian Orthodox patriarch could meet within a year

Unbelievable meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Russian Orthodox patriarch of Moscow could take place within a year, a senior cardinal said Thursday.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who heads the Vatican office for relations with other Christian confessions, said both the pope and Patriarch Alexy II were open to the meeting, and that much depended on the "internal situation" of the Russian church.

"No one is against the meeting, even among the Orthodox," the SIR agency quoted Kasper as saying. "There is the hope that Benedict XVI and Alexy II can meet within a year."

The German prelate spoke on the sidelines of a ceremony awarding an honorary degree to Cypriot Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II, who will be received Saturday by Benedict and has offered himself as a mediator to help arrange the meeting.

The late Pope John Paul II was rebuffed in his bid to make a pilgrimage to Russia after Catholic-Orthodox tensions arose following the demise of the Soviet Union.

The Russian church accuses Roman Catholics of seeking converts in areas that traditionally would be Russian Orthodox. The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing accusations, saying it is only ministering to the around 600,000 member Catholic community in Russia, a country of 144 million.

In a recent interview with the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso, the Cypriot archbishop said Benedict had deep knowledge of Orthodox theology, a factor he said should help in arranging a meeting with Alexy and also in reuniting the two churches, which split apart nearly 1,000 years ago.