By Aidar Buribayev
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, would be willing to meet Pope Benedict after disputes with Catholics in Ukraine are resolved, Archbishop Hilarion, the Church’s external relations head, has said. A meeting with the pope would begin to heal the 1,000 year-old-rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, which split in 1054 amid disputes over doctrine and papal authority that remain unresolved.
“This is not an issue of when the meeting will take place, but what will be discussed,” Hilarion told journalists on Tuesay. He said the patriarch of the 165-million-strong Russian Orthodox Church, whose believers include the majority of Russia’s population as well as millions in neighbouring ex-Soviet countries Ukraine and Belarus, wanted a conflict in western Ukraine over church property to be resolved first.
“The situation in western Ukraine is the primary reason for the blocking of the meeting,” he said.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Eastern Rite Catholics who owe their allegiance to Rome took back some churches that had been confiscated by communist authorities after World War Two and given to the Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox Church does not demand the churches are returned but wants the Vatican to take “concrete measures” towards improving the situation, Hilarion said, such as helping Orthodox followers who have only Catholic churches nearby.
“As soon as there are positive dynamics (from the Vatican) towards resolving this issue, then we can return to the issue of the pope and patriarch meeting,” Hilarion said.