Pope, Russia patriarch meet looking more likely

Moscow, Russia - A first meeting between the Pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is increasingly likely, a senior Vatican cardinal said on a visit to Moscow on Tuesday, after centuries of bitter rivalry between the churches.

The eastern and western branches of Christianity have been split since the Great Schism of 1054 and relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been increasingly strained since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

The Pope and the Russian Patriarch have never met although Catholic leaders have in the past met with Ecumenical Patriarchs, spiritual leaders of the worldwide Orthodox church based in Istanbul.

'We are moving towards this aim,' Russian news agencies reported Cardinal Roger Etchegary as saying after meeting Patriarch Alexiy II. 'The steps are speeding up but we cannot say exactly when it will happen.'

Etchegary is President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals.

In June another high-ranking cardinal said a meeting between the heads of the two churches would happen within a year.