Report: Pope-patriarch parley sought

Vatican City - The Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus is offering himself as a mediator to try to set up a groundbreaking meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Russian Orthodox patriarch of Moscow, an Italian newsweekly reported on Thursday.

Cypriot Archbishop Chrysostomos II will be received on June 16 by Benedict in a private audience at the Vatican.

L'Espresso newsweekly asked Chrysostomos in an interview on its Web site about the possibility he could be a "mediator" to pull off the encounter, which had eluded the late John Paul II in his long papacy. Catholic-Orthodox tensions following the demise of the Soviet Union thwarted John Paul's dream of a pilgrimage to Russia.

"I asked to see the pope, and I thank him for the opportunity," the archbishop was quoted as saying about the mediator possibility. "We want to help him in every way to improve the relations between the two churches, because we are children of the same Father. I would be happy if he accepted the offer."

Asked if the conditions were right for Benedict to meet with Russian Patriarch Alexy II, the archbishop was quoted as saying: "Every moment is a good moment because the aim is that of doing what is best for both churches. It's clear that we're not talking about organizing a meeting in 24 hours."

He said first delegates would need to be exchanged, then theologians would have to prepare the meeting. "In other words, you have to prepare the event so it is a success," the archbishop said, pledging to "do all possible to have them meet."

The archbishop was asked if he had sounded out Alexy. "I am very close to him and I am a good friend of his. I think I can say that there aren't even problems for him. When you have good intentions, obstacles can be surmounted."

Chrysostomos contended that Benedict's being a theologian with good grasp of Orthodox theology would help the process of both the meeting and of reuniting the two churches which split apart 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.