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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Meeting With Pope Said to Boost Catholics

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI's meeting this week with President Vladimir Putin will benefit the Catholic community in Russia, the pontiff's envoy in Moscow said Saturday, but he declined to say whether he expected an invitation for Benedict to travel to Moscow.

Benedict's talks with Putin at the Vatican on Tuesday "certainly will be a portent of good fruits in further relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation, to the advantage as well of the Catholic Church in Russia," Antonio Mennini told Vatican Radio.

Benedict and Putin will be holding the highest-level Kremlin-Vatican talks in more than three years, and it will be the first meeting between the president and the pope.

The late Pope John Paul II's dream of going to Moscow was thwarted by tensions between Catholic and Orthodox Christians following the fall of Soviet-bloc communism. The Russian Orthodox Church suspects Catholics of looking for converts on its traditional territory, an accusation that the Vatican denies. Long-running property disputes between the churches have also put the two sides at odds.

Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev invited John Paul to Russia. Putin, in two meetings at the Vatican with John Paul, did not issue any such invitation.

Mennini, who is the apostolic nuncio in Moscow, was asked in a separate interview, published Saturday in the Catholic daily Avvenire, whether Putin would hold talks at the Vatican without extending an invitation to Russia. The envoy sidestepped the question.

Tuesday's meeting "will certainly be a significant event" with ecumenical effects, the envoy told the newspaper, which is published by the Italian bishops conference.

"In this sense, it seems clear that the priority isn't identifying with a visit by the Holy Father to Moscow, but with progress in dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox [believers]," Mennini was quoted as saying.

Mennini told Vatican Radio that Putin and Benedict would speak in German.

"It was a courteous gesture by the president, who let us know that he was ready to speak directly in the Holy Father's mother tongue, which Putin knows very well," he said.