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VATICAN CITY (RNS) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Pope Benedict XVI agreed Thursday (Dec. 3) to establish full diplomatic relations between Russia and the Holy See, a step likely to be seen as healing decades of mutual suspicion and tension.
“During the meetings both parties expressed their satisfaction at the cordial existing relations and it was agreed to establish full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation,” read a statement on the Vatican Web site.
The Vatican established informal ties with the former Soviet Union in 1990, a year before the Communist state disintegrated. By upgrading relations, Russia and the Holy See will now have embassies in Rome and Moscow.
Political ties between the two states have been overshadowed by longstanding distrust between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The late Pope John Paul II longed to visit Russia, a request that was repeatedly denied.
Former Patriarch Alexy II, who died last year, accused the Catholic Church of trying to poach Orthodox followers, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, and never met John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI.
The Vatican repeatedly denied the accusations, saying its activities in Russia focused on Catholic minorities, such as those of Polish and German descent.
Property disputes also contributed to the frosty relationship, which led many observers to conclude it was one reason why former Russian President Vladimir Putin, now Prime Minister, was one of only a handful of world leaders not to attend John Paul’s funeral in 2005.
The situation has thawed considerably since Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill — the former head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations — assumed the top post last February.
The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has just published a collection of speeches by Pope Benedict on the struggle against secularism in Europe, an area where Kirill has expressed an interest in cooperating with the Catholic Church.
By Paul Virgo
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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