04/19/2006, 00.00
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High-level Vatican delegation in Moscow for religious summit, Catholics free, says nuncio

In an interview with Russian-state news agency Interfax, Mgr Mennini, nuncio in Russia, talks about cooperation with the Orthodox Church. Catholics face no external obstructions in the country.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Mgr Antonio Mennini, apostolic nuncio to Russia, told Russian state news agency Interfax that the Holy See appreciates the initiative undertaken by the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Aleksij II, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to convene a World Summit of Religious Leaders in Moscow on July 3-4. The nuncio added that religious freedom is respected in the country. Similarly, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, told daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta today that the "climate of Orthodox-Catholic relations has improved, partly thanks to the personality, statements and deeds of the new pontiff".

"Catholic leaders have always appreciated proposals for dialogue and cooperation in overcoming the major problems of humanity today and have normally taken a direct and active part in realizing such initiatives," the nuncio said. As President Putin himself said, the Vatican diplomat agreed that today it is important to strengthen the moral and spiritual values common to all religions.

For Mennini, "it is also noteworthy that in recent months there have been repeated statements by high-ranking representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church speaking positively of closeness in Orthodox and Catholic positions on most of the challenges brought by modern times".

A Vatican delegation, not the Pope, was invited to the July summit, but it "has not been formed and approved as yet", although it will certainly "be a high-level representation."

In the same interview, the Vatican representative said he was unaware of what prompted the US Congress to criticise Russia for allegedly failing to observe religious freedoms, but said instead that he was "delighted to testify that the current Russian legislation provides for a real opportunity for the communities and structures of the Catholic Church in Russia to exist normally and to develop. Parishes, schools and monastic communities work without any restrictions from outside and Catholic charities carry out their service without any obstructions".

The nuncio did however admit "there are some difficulties (in provinces as a rule), which come from an insufficient experience of life in a law-governed society. At the same time, I would like to emphasize that the existing mechanism of resolving conflict situations makes it possible to reach a desired and lawful result almost in any case without resorting to harsh public accusations, which normally give only temporary advantages, but do not help in any way to build reliable partnership relations."

Mgr Mennini ended the interview on an optimistic note, saying that his experience of contemporary Russia gave him hope that Catholics along with other Christians would be able to bear witness of the Truth to the world, which needs it now more than ever.

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