Alexis II Rules out All Meetings During Pope's Visit to Ukraine

BAKU - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church flatly excluded Sunday all meetings between representatives of the Catholic Church and their Orthodox counterparts during Pope John Paul II's proposed trip to Ukraine next month.

"If the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ukraine goes ahead, no meeting at any level will be held with representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church," Patriarch Alexis II told reporters while on a visit to Baku.

According to him, "all the bishops of the Orthodox Church have spoken against the visit" and others have written to the pontiff to warn him of the impossibility of any meetings.

Alexis II added that the pope's visit would "further deteriorate relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians in the country."

The Russian patriarchat accuses the Roman Catholics of "proselytizing" amongst the Orthodox faithful.

The planned papal visit to Kiev has split the Orthodox community, already divided into Russian and Ukrainian branches, while the Russian Orthodox Church has already blocked a proposed visit by the pope to Russia because of what it sees as Catholic proselytism in the heartlands of Orthodoxy after the demise of communism in the Soviet Union.

Alexis II has said he would meet the pope on condition that the two main issues dividing the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches -- alleged Catholic proselytism and the situation in Ukraine -- were resolved. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)