.- The Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches have improved relations under Pope Benedict XVI, and in a sign of a growing closeness, the Vatican announced today that Archbishop Hilarion, the Russian Orthodox head of External Church Affairs, is paying his first visit to Rome.
Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk is visiting Rome at the invitation of Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. His trip began today and will last until September 20.
Archbishop Hilarion's post was previously filled by then-Archbishop Kirill, who was elected the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia this past January.
This week's visit to Rome will be Archbishop Hilarion's first since he was appointed as president of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow after the selection of Kirill.
The archbishop will be received by the Holy Father and will meet, among others, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone; Cardinal Walter Kasper; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
"In the wake of the many meetings and conversations with the Patriarch in the past," says a statement issued by the Council for Christian Unity, "this visit will confirm the ties of friendship between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, on the solid basis of mutual understanding and respect, with a view to closer collaboration and to favor the presence of the Church in the lives of the peoples of Europe and the world."
At a meeting with the ambassador from the Dominican Republic to Russia, Archbishop Hilarion said that relations between the two Churches are good and have particularly improved under Pope Benedict.
“We have frank and rather efficient dialogue and its objective is to present the Christian vision to our present world and give answers to the questions raised by today’s reality,” the Orthodox archbishop said according to Interfax news agency.