Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II said Friday that he hoped relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches would improve in the 21st century, but first they had to resolve major disputes.
"One would like to hope for a positive development of these relations," Alexis II was cited as saying by Interfax news agency.
"Orthodox and Catholic believers have many common concerns caused by the increasing secularization of modern society," he added.
But the Russian church leader said he was deeply concerned about Catholic proselytism -- persuading Orthodox people to change faith in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics -- and the persecution of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine.
"There are still serious problems between the two Churches and these problems have arisen through no fault of Orthodox Christians," said Alexis II.
"The future of our relations with the Catholic Church, and particularly the level of our dialogue, depends on overcoming these problems," he concluded.
Alexis II has blocked a proposed visit to Russia by Pope John Paul II because of these areas of dispute.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met the pope at the Vatican on June 5, but he did not invite the 80-year-old pontiff to Russia, unlike his predecessors Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev -- MOSCOW (AFP)
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