Russian President to Visit Benedict XVI

Event Expected to Aid Catholic-Orthodox Relations

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit Benedict XVI this week in a gesture that will promote friendship and cooperation, says an official of the Holy See embassy in Russia.

First secretary at the embassy, Monsignor Visvaldas Kulbokas, told Interfax, "I cannot say with certainty which topics exactly will be touched upon at the meeting between the Russian president and the Pope but I can say that this visit will primarily become a symbol of the beautiful, friendly relationship and cooperation, which is there and is likely to grow."

Interfax reported that the president is in Italy for an official visit on Wednesday and Thursday; afterwards he plans to meet with Benedict XVI.

The Holy See and Russia had limited diplomatic relations since 1990, but they had not been formalized until President Medvedev visited Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Dec. 3, 2009. At that time, the two heads of state agreed to upgrade relations to full diplomatic ties, which raised the level of representation to apostolic nuncio and embassy.

Monsignor Kulbokas clarified that this is a state visit, the first since Russia and the Holy See established diplomatic relations, and will not necessarily have any bearing on relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Nonetheless, he added, relations between Russia and the Holy See "also take into account the friendly, brotherly relations between the two Churches."

The acting secretary of the External Church Relations Department for the Russian Orthodox Church, Father Dmitry Sizonenko, told Interfax that the upcoming meeting will help on the level of interreligious dialogue.

He affirmed that "full-value diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and the Holy See gave a fresh impetus to the constructive relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican."

Although the Church is separated from the state in his country, Father Sizonenko said, the Church has always been united "with the people, the society and played a special role in the Russian life as a spiritual and moral force linking millions of people in the home country and abroad."

He noted that "Benedict XVI pins special hopes on cooperation with the Orthodox Church."

The Orthodox priest asserted, "We simply must build up partnership in the face of terrorism and discrimination of Christians."