John Paul has expressed a strong desire to visit Russia, where some 600,000 Catholics form a tiny minority in the 144 million population. But Orthodox leaders have ruled out such a trip and accused the Vatican of proselytizing in Russia. "One can only be astonished by the irrational persistence and resolution with which the Vatican suggests various methods of marking, even if it's just symbolically, the pope's presence in Russia," the Interfax news agency quoted the Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Orthodox church, as saying. About two-thirds of Russians consider themselves Orthodox.
The Vatican has denied the proselytizing allegations, and the pope appears intent on reaching out to Russian Catholics. Earlier this month, the Vatican raised the Church's status in Russia, upgrading four district administrations to full-fledged dioceses. Viktor Khrul, editor of the Russian Catholic newspaper Svet Yevangeliya, said Tuesday that the pope would lead young Catholics at Moscow's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in prayers Saturday over a video link. The service will also be carried via video to Athens, Budapest, Strasbourg, France; Vienna, Austria; and Valencia, Spain, Khrul said.
Chaplin said the Vatican seemed to be interested only in promoting the pope's spiritual presence in Russia, Interfax reported. "As for the pile of serious problems existing in relations between our Churches, the supreme Catholic leadership apparently does not care about them at all," he was quoted as saying.
John Paul has made reconciliation between the two churches one of the goals of his papacy.