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BENEDICT XVI TO MEET RUSSIAN CHURCH HALFWAY, EXPECTS CATHOLIC EXPERT

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ROME, April 20 (RIA Novosti's Sergei Startsev) - Pope Benedict XVI may make strides toward reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, expects Marco Politi, top-notch expert on contemporary Catholicism.

"The new Pontiff has two pivotal issues on his agenda-contacts with China and Russia.

"As for Russia, I think the address Benedict XVI made in the Sistine Chapel this morning was of extraordinary importance," Signor Politi said to Novosti.

Ecumenism is among fundamental ideas of his papacy, stressed His Holiness Benedict XVI.

"The Pope made a strong stress on ecumenism. I think it reflected his heartfelt desire to achieve settlement in contacts with all Christian denominations, Orthodoxy being no exception," our interviewee went on.

He expects Cardinal Walter Casper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, to be of much help to the Pope on that cause, what with his major success of the preceding years to bring down tensions between the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate. Thus, Monsignor Casper has been convincing the Russian Orthodox hierarchy that proselytizing is not among Catholic goals.

"I expect of the new Pontiff practical steps forward to remove present-day differences and misunderstandings between the two Churches.

"Naturally, I don't think the dioceses and other ecclesiastical structures John Paul II established in the post-Soviet area will be disbanded, however much Orthodox Christians might feel injured with their appearance.

"I expect, however, that accord will be eventually reached for Roman Catholic hierarchs in Russia to engage solely in the Catholic flock's spiritual problems, and they will not try to attract or convert people who belong to the Orthodox tradition," said the expert.

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