By MANSUR MIROVALEV
MOSCOW (AP) — The outgoing leader of Russia's Catholics said Wednesday the problems souring Vatican relations with the Russian Orthodox Church should be overcome so the two faiths could work together to advance the word of Christ.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said the Orthodox "could have been better to us," referring to the Catholic community of about 600,000 in a country of 142 million.
The Russian Orthodox Church has accused Roman Catholics of improperly seeking converts in traditionally Russian Orthodox areas. The Vatican has rejected the claim, saying it only ministers to the country's Catholics, mostly of Eastern European and German origin.
"During my 16-year service here, I never aimed at luring people from other religions to Catholicism," said Kondrusiewicz, 61, who was leaving his post in Moscow to head a 1.5 million-member Catholic community in neighboring Belarus.
Tensions between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have stood in the way of a meeting by the two churches' leaders, as well as a papal visit to Russia.
"We are trying to break this wall of problems, and we should put Christ in the center of our relations," Kondrusiewicz said at a news conference.
The Russian Orthodox Church has experienced a major resurgence after the 1991 Soviet collapse ended decades of state atheism, and claims about two-thirds of the country's population as part of its flock.
Russian authorities only issued one-year visas to foreign Catholic clerics or repeatedly denied them visas. Some Orthodox priests have openly opposed the presence of Catholics, Protestants and other denominations in the country.
Adherents of other faiths in Russia also have expressed concern about the attempts of the Russian church to set moral guidelines for society.
President Vladimir Putin met Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to the Vatican in March, but papal hopes of going to Moscow were thwarted by lack of agreement with the Orthodox church leadership.
Kondrusiewicz said the Vatican sees the Russian church as "a sister church" that has to unite efforts with other Christian denominations in the modern world "devoid of Christ."
During the Soviet era, Communist authorities persecuted Catholics, imprisoning priests and cracking down on adherents. Only two churches and a handful of chapels functioned in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and no priests were ordained in Russia between 1918 and 1999.
Kondruciewicz was instrumental in the relative revival of Catholicism in post-Soviet Russia. After his 1991 arrival in Moscow, he oversaw reopening and consecration of dozens of churches, where priests from Russia and 22 other countries serve their flock.
Kondrusiewicz will be replaced by Don Paolo Pezzi, 45, an Italian-born president of a seminary in St. Petersburg.
Russians were converted to Christianity by Byzantine Greeks in 989, and their relations with Catholics have been complicated by political and cultural tensions. The Roman Catholics and the Orthodox split in the Great Schism of 1054 amid.
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