.- Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to boost relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches in Russia with his second visit to the Vatican today. His visit coincides with a trip to Rome for a Russia-European Union summit.
Ties between the two churches in Russia have suffered for the last decade due to post-Communist suspicions that Catholics are proselytizing and taking over Orthodox congregations. Catholic leaders in Russia strongly deny these allegations, saying the recent creation of new dioceses and the appointment of new bishops in Russia are strictly to serve the faithful.
Putin said the objective of his visit with the Pope is not to assist in getting the pontiff to visit Russia but to promote Christian unity.
“For Russia, it is even more important because it represents a further step toward integration with Europe. But we want to integrate with the West without losing our culture, our faith or our identity,” he said. “The pope is a wise and intelligent person. We have met before and I am certain we will have plenty to talk about,” he added.
Catholics expect Putin to renew the standing invitation for the Pope to visit Russia. Putin’s two predecessors, Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev, had both extended the invitation but a visit is only possible with the consent from the Orthodox patriarch and the Orthodox hierarchy. The current Orthodox patriarch, Alexiy II, has said the Orthodox church’s concerns must first be resolved before such a visit.