(RNS) An official Russian Orthodox delegation has made what itcalled a "historic" visit to the cathedral of Turin, Italy, to view theHoly Shroud, the linen sheet that many Christians believe bears theimage of the crucified Christ.

But Metropolitan Kyrill Gundiaev, who led the delegation, said thatwhile the visit was important, relations between the Orthodox and RomanCatholic churches remain too cold for a meeting between Pope John PaulII and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexii II.

"I have been asked if relations between Catholics and Orthodox arein autumn or in winter," Kyrill said. "I answer that we are in winter,which is colder but still closer to spring."

Kyrill and Archbishop Severino Poletto of Turin said Sunday (Sept.24) before the delegation left that they considered the visit historicbecause it was made "with the blessing of the pope and the patriarch ofMoscow."

Poletto and Turin city officials traveled to Moscow in May to invitean Orthodox delegation to view the shroud, on display in the Cathedralof St. John from Aug. 13 to Oct. 22 as part of the Roman CatholicChurch's celebrations of the Jubilee Holy Year 2000.

Kyrill, who ranks second in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy andserves as the patriarch's foreign minister, said it is still "premature"to speak of a meeting between John Paul II and Alexii II.

"Today there are still problems to resolve before the so muchawaited embrace between the pope and the patriarch," he said. Theprelate reiterated his church's position that the meeting would be sucha "great symbolic gesture" that it must come only after almost amillennium of differences have been resolved.

"Patriarch Alexii II has always repeated to me, `I want to meet withthe pope,"' Kyrill said.

But he said that in addition to doctrinal differences, the twochurches are at odds over the restoration of property of the UkrainianCatholic Church seized by Communist authorities and turned over to theOrthodox Church.

Many Christians believe the linen sheet bearing what appears to bethe outline of the body and face of a bearded man was Jesus' shroud.Carbon dating tests carried out in England in 1988 indicated thatfragments cut from the border of the cloth dated only to the 13thcentury, but other experts contend the testing procedures were flawedand blood and grass stains on the cloth testify to its authenticity.

"The great majority of Russians believe it is authentic," Kyrillsaid.