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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pope and Orthodox Leader Look for Unity

ReutersThe pope greeting Chrysostomos upon his arrival at the Vatican on Saturday.
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI told a visiting Orthodox leader on Saturday that he held firm hope that the Catholic and Orthodox churches could be united, despite centuries of painful division.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus promised the pope to sound out Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II about prospects for a groundbreaking meeting between the two.

Chrysostomos told reporters that he would pursue his offer to help organize a possible meeting when he meets with Alexy, at the patriarch's invitation, on July 13 in Moscow.

"I'll see what his reaction is, I think I can be useful," he said.

Chrysostomos said Benedict's background as a theologian with a good grasp of Orthodox theology would help the process of reuniting the two churches, which split nearly 1,000 years ago.

The Russian church accuses Roman Catholics of improperly seeking converts in areas that traditionally would be Russian Orthodox. The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing accusations, saying it is only ministering to Russia's tiny Catholic community of about 600,000 people in a country of 144 million.

Despite "centuries-old divisions, diverging roads and despite the hard work of closing painful wounds, the Lord has never ceased to guide our steps on the path toward unity and reconciliation," Benedict said at a ceremony after the two men held private talks for more than 30 minutes.

Both men also had a two-hour lunch together. In a joint signed statement, they pledged to "intensify the search for full unity among all Christians."

Benedict described the archbishop's visit as a "very useful initiative to make us progress toward the unity desired by Christ."

One major difference between both sides is the Vatican's teaching of pope supremacy. "This is a question being discussed on theological level in dialogue," Chrysostomos said. "I am certain a day will come when we will have one flock with one shepherd, even if we won't be able to see it in our days."

The Vatican sees the Orthodox church as a logical partner in its efforts to push its conservative agenda on bioethical, social and moral issues, including opposition to embryonic stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.