(RIA Novosti) A senior Belarusian official invited the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church leaders to have their first meeting in Belarus in efforts to end the 950-year schism.
Speaking during an online news conference on Wednesday, Leonid Gulyako, an official in charge of religious and ethnicity affairs, said Belarus was an ideal place for the historic meeting.
“In Belarus, the Orthodox Church has not distanced itself from the Catholic Church. A husband and wife in a family belonging to the two different religions is a common thing in Belarus,” Gulyako said adding however that 85% of believers in the country are Orthodox and 12% are Catholics.
The statement echoes an earlier appeal by the ex-Soviet state’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko was received by Pope Benedict XVI while visiting Italy in April. He invited the Pope to visit Belarus, hinting at his possible meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Russia’s Orthodox Church to bridge the schism in 1054 that divided the Christian churches and resulted in political and theological differences.
High-level visits between the churches have become more frequent under Benedict and Kirill, who took office in February after the death of his predecessor, with both churches pledging to improve their relations.
The Moscow patriarchy is yet to permit a pope to visit Russia. Church officials in Moscow have accused Catholics of proselytizing in Russia and highlighted a number of differences on which there is no room for compromise.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is set to meet Pope Benedict XVI for the first time this week while on his visit to Italy, the Kremlin said earlier giving no details about their possible topics of discussion.
Former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with Benedict XVI in the Vatican in March 2007.