In a congratulatory message to Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday, Patriarch Alexiy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, signaled a new willingness to heal a centuries old split between the two faiths.
“Our Churches, which have authority and influence, should unite their efforts to spread Christian values to modern humankind. The secular world is losing its spiritual way and needs our joint testimony as never before,” he said.
Some Russian media, meanwhile, appeared to take caution in dedicating coverage to the new pope, perhaps a result of nationalism ignited by the death of Pope John Paul II. In the wake of the pope’s passing, one Russian lawmaker proposed a ban on coverage, saying it amounted to Catholic “propaganda” at the expense of the Russian Orthodox Church. A parliamentary vote on the proposal failed to pass.
Only a handful of newspapers gave the new pope front-page coverage, relegating the story to the inside pages. Breaking news of Benedict XVI’s election did get prominent attention on state-controlled Russian television on Tuesday.
Despite the Russian patriarch’s positive comments on a Catholic-Orthodox rapprochement, others saw the new pontiff, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as a possible roadblock to better ties between the two religions.
Daily newspaper Gazeta noted that Ratzinger, as chief of religious doctrine under John Paul II, believed in the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church over the Russian Orthodox Church, which split from Rome in the Great Schism of 1054.
The newspaper said Benedict XVI could treat the Orthodox as a “forgotten daughter than a sister religion.”