.- The Holy Father’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday will be the first meeting between the president and this Pope and the highest-level Kremlin-Vatican talks in more than three years. Many are also hoping it will be a meeting of hope for Catholic-Orthodox relations and for the condition of Catholics in Russia.
Archbishop Antonio Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Russia, told Vatican Radio that the visit "certainly will be a portent of good fruits in further relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation, to the advantage as well of the Catholic Church in Russia." Archbishop Mennini also said that the meeting between Pope Benedict and President Putin is likely to benefit the Catholic-Orthodox relations in Russia.
The archbishop was quoted by Vatican Radio as saying that relations between the two churches had already "much improved" during this pontificate. Pope Benedict has certainly made improved relations with the Orthodox a priority, and it seems to be having some positive effects.
"The president recently ... praised the efforts of the (Catholic) Church and religious groups in Russia for contributing towards this climate of reconciliation and communion between all the believers in Russia," Mennini told Reuters.
Some are even speculating that Putin may extend an invitation for the Pope to visit Russia, though officials at the Kremlin have unofficially denied this.
Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev invited Pope John Paul to Russia. However, in two meetings at the Vatican with John Paul, Putin did not issue any such invitation.
Asked about the possibility of an official invitation to Russia, Mennini told the Catholic daily “Avvenire,” that the meeting between heads of state, “will certainly be a significant event,” but that, “in this sense, it seems clear that the priority isn't identifying with a visit by the Holy Father to Moscow, but with progress in dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox [believers].”
Archbishop Mennini also confirmed for Vatican Radio that Putin has offered to hold the meeting in German, which he speaks fluently and which is the Pope’s mother tongue.
The Vatican meeting is part of a visit that includes talks with the Italian government and a pilgrimage to the shrine in southern Italy that holds the relics of one of Russia's most venerated saints, Nicholas, reported Reuters.