Russian patriarch, Pope seek meeting - Cardinal

( RIA Novosti ) - Relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches are improving, Russia's Patriarch and Pope Benedict XVI are considering meeting, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray said Tuesday following a meeting with the Russian spiritual leader.

The Cardinal, 84, who headed the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace from 1984 to 1998, and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II, 78, met to discuss cooperation between European churches.

The Cardinal Bishop said relations between the two churches were improving, which was demonstrated by a number of impressive initiatives that had taken place over the past year, including an Orthodox-Catholic conference held in Moscow on June 14-15, and a conference on Christianity, culture and moral values on June 19-21.

A joint conference on the first pontifical encyclical letter, God is Love, is scheduled for October 18-21.

The Cardinal handed Alexy II a letter from Pope XVI and a golden pen. After reading the pontifical message the Russian patriarch promised to reply in written. "I am grateful for the care and wishes for a quick recovery. You can assure [the Pope] that I am feeling well," Alexy II told the Cardinal.

The patriarch was president of the Confederation of European Churches at a time when Cardinal Etchegaray headed the Council of European Episcopal Conferences at the Roman Catholic Church.

After refusing all previous invitations from Pope Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, the Russian patriarch, who had accused the Vatican of trying to win new converts in post-Soviet countries, regarded by the Russian Church as historically Orthodox, accepted late in June an invitation to join the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe during its October 1-5 session in Strasbourg, and will address the gathering with a keynote speech on October 2.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Pope Benedict during a visit to the Vatican in March this year, and pledged to help in reconciling the two divided Churches.

The Eastern, Orthodox, and Western, Roman, churches split in 1054 AD.

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