02/17/2011, 00.00
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Medvedev visits Pope: strengthening relations to promote human and Christian values

The Russian president's second visit to the Vatican. The "positive contribution that interfaith dialogue can bring to society”, examining the international situation,"with particular reference to the Middle East. "

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Strengthening relations between the Vatican and Russia " both in the promotion of specifically human and Christian values, and in the cultural and social field" recognition of the "positive contribution that interfaith dialogue can bring to society" and discussion of the international situation, "with particular reference to the Middle East”. A press communiqué released by the Vatican Press Office speaks also of “cordial talks" held today by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in the Vatican, where he was received by Pope Benedict XVI and later between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone accompanied by Msgr. Dominique Mamberti, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States.

No great announcements were expected from this Medvedev’s second visit to Benedict XVI after the first one 2009 brought full diplomatic relations between the states. As regards relations with the Russia, ongoing issues concern the "recognition" of the role of the Catholic Church in the state and the restitution of property taken by the then USSR. In all likelihood both were discussed.

Nevertheless there were the traditional gestures of “friendliness": Pope Benedict XVI this morning, went to greet his guest in the throne room, adjacent to the library, where the private meeting was hled, which lasted 35 minutes. At the end, Medvedev was joined in the library by a dozen people, including the president's wife, Svetlana, dressed in black and wearing a gray scarf, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zukhov, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov .

Medvedev gifted the Pope an the Orthodox Encyclopedia and two volumes of letters of Russian President Boris Yeltsin during his years in the Kremlin, including those addressed to John Paul II, both written in Cyrillic.  The Pope commented: "I should learn Russian." Looking at a picture of Moscow, also gifted by the President, and in particular the Kremlin Benedict XVI asked Medvedev "You live here?". "I work there," was the President's answer, who in turn praised the architecture and art in the Vatican - reflected in the mosaic he received as a gift.

But the particularly close ties that exist in Russia's between the State and the Orthodox Church have given added importance to the president's visit in light of the still difficult relationship between the Patriarchate of Moscow and Rome. Not surprisingly, on the eve of Medvedev's departure for Italy, the Patriarchate said it was convinced that the leader of the Kremlin’s visit to Benedict XVI would promote dialogue between the two Churches. A few references can perhaps be seen in the words of the Vatican statement on "interfaith dialogue".

The possibility of a papal trip to Russia is also linked to relations between the two Churches. There's no mention - nor was one expected – in the Vatican note.  For the Holy See'relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Catholic Church are "better" thanks "to the personality, statements and actions" of Benedict XVI : as Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, vice-chairman of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate already stated in 2006. An 'improvement' certainly has paved the way for the next steps in diplomatic relations between Rome and Moscow. But there is still some way to go before the Patriarchate will give the green light for a papal trip. The meeting between Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill "is undoubtedly approaching," said Metropolitan Hilarion a few days ago,. "But – maintains the former nuncio in Moscow, Mgr. Antonio Mennini -  it is difficult to determine the times". Will this meeting ever take place? "It depends on how many years of life the good Lord will grant me yet, but I hope so," replied the Pope in person in the recent interview book 'Light of the World'.

Medvedev’s second visit to Benedict XVI, after that of the December 3, 2009 is still of great significance.  The main outcome of that first meeting was the decision to establish full diplomatic relations between Rome and Moscow, which took place a few days later, on December 9.

A ourney that first began with the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev Pope John Paul II December 1, 1989 has thus been concluded. On that historic occasion relationship between the Holy See and the then Soviet Union were established, by sending a personal representative of the President. But it was not full diplomatic relations.

Dmitri Medvedev is the third president of Russia (the fifth considering the USSR) to be received at the Vatican. The first (Soviet) was Nikolai Podgorny on 30 January 1967, who had a seventy minute conversation with Paul VI. They talked of peace and war in Vietnam. Then over twenty years passed and the Berlin Wall fell, until a new head of the USSR entered the papal state: Mikhail Gorbachev received in audience by Pope John Paul II, December 1, 1989. In 1985, however, there was the visit of Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, who had talks with Pope John Paul II for over two hours. Nothing was leaked from that meeting, which took place at a key moment of affairs of the Polish Solidarity movement. Another president, Russian this time, visited the Vatican in the 1998 Boris Yeltsin, followed by Vladimir Putin in 2000 and 2003. Putin returned again in March 2007 for a meeting with Benedict XVI. (FP)


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