Pope Will Not Attend Religious Summit — Russian Church

Moscow, Russia - Pope Benedict XVI will not attend the international 3-day summit of religious leaders that opens in Moscow in early July, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, Metropolitan Kirill, was quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday.

The reason he has not been invited, ROC official explained, is that the Russian Church does not want to hold two landmark events — the summit and the long-expected meeting between the heads of the two churches — simultaneously. He added that he had met Benedict XVI earlier, and the Pope expressed his support for the summit. “The Pope is sending his delegation to the summit, which speaks for his support for the event,” Metropolitan Kirill said.

Earlier the ROC invited top Vatican officials to attend the summit to be held at the initiative of the Moscow Patriarchy, which seeks to bring together top religious leaders from a variety of spiritual traditions to discuss how world religions could help give a moral response to the challenges the world is facing.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow invited Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the pontifical councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue; Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; and Bishop Joseph Werth of Russia’s Novosibirsk-based Transfiguration Diocese.

The Russian Orthodox Church had criticized the Vatican in February 2002 after Pope John Paul II transformed four Russian church regions into dioceses, one of which was the former Apostolic Administration of Western Siberia, which became the Diocese of the Transfiguration in Novosibirsk, headed by Bishop Werth.

The Orthodox Church had accused the Vatican of a modern Catholic invasion of Russia while the Vatican said it was merely restoring church structures that existed before Soviet communism. The move put further strain on an already tense ecumenical climate between the two churches.

The religious leaders representing Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism are expected to draw up a final statement to present to heads of state from the Group of Eight industrialized countries, scheduled to meet July 15-17 in St. Petersburg, Russia.