Pope Laments Death of Alexy II

Called Patriarch "Courageous" Defender of Values

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 5, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has sent a message of condolence to the Russian Orthodox Church upon hearing of the death of Patriarch Alexy II, calling him "courageous" in his efforts to promote Gospel values.



The Pope stated in the note that he "was profoundly saddened" to hear of the patriarch's death, and that he wished to convey his "most sincere condolences" and to assure the faithful of his "spiritual closeness at this very sad time."

Alexy II, 79, who had been the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since 1990, died today at his residence near Moscow. No cause of death was given.

"Mindful of the common commitment to the path of mutual understanding and cooperation between Orthodox and Catholics, I am pleased to recall the efforts of the late patriarch for the rebirth of the Church, after the severe ideological oppression which led to the martyrdom of so many witnesses to the Christian faith," the Pope said.

The Pontiff also recalled Alexy II's "courageous battle for the defense of human and Gospel values, especially in the European continent, and I trust that his commitment will bear fruit in peace and genuine progress, human, social and spiritual."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope's secretary of state, also sent a message of condolence, as did Cardinal Walter Kaper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

"Patriarch Alexis was called to guide the Russian Orthodox Church in a period of great change," wrote Cardinal Kasper, "and his leadership has enabled that Church to face the challenges of transition from the Soviet era to the present with renewed interior vitality."

Alexy II was last seen in public on Thursday, when he celebrated a liturgy in the Kremlin. His funeral will be held next week.

Alexei Mikahilovich Rediger, the son of a priest, was born Feb. 23, 1929, in Tallin, Estonia. Ordained in 1950, he was elected bishop of Tallin and Estonia in 1961.

In 1986 he was elected bishop of Leningrad (currently St. Petersburg) and Novogorod, and in 1990 the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

Dialogue

Benedict XVI and Alexy II have worked in recent years to intensify dialogue between the Churches.

In 2006, Benedict XVI sent Alexy II a message for his birthday. The patriarch responded to the Pontiff with a letter sent with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, and he gave him a pectoral cross as a gift.

In January of this year, Alexy II proposed a series of common pastoral actions to be taken in conjunction with the Catholic Church.

In May, Benedict XVI sent through Cardinal Kasper a letter to the patriarch that addressed the path to full union between the Churches.

In October, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples, delivered to the patriarch another letter from the Pontiff, in which he invited the patriarch to offer with him a common testimony of peace to the world.

The patriarch responded with a letter in which he underlined the positive development of the relationship and cooperation between Rome and the Moscow Patriarchate.