Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, raising hopes for a thaw in relations between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. Putin came bearing gifts – an icon and an encyclopaedia – and more importantly greetings from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch.
The two men spoke privately about the strained ties, in what a Vatican statement said was a “very positive” climate. This marks a significant change from the tension of previous years. The Russian church has accused the Vatican of seeking converts in its territory. The two have argued over church property.Neither the current Pontiff nor his predecessor, Pope John Paul II visited Russia.
Such journeys require the blessing of Patriarch Alexiy II and this was not forthcoming. On Tuesday, Putin also met Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi for talks on business deals set to continue at a summit in Bari. The two delegations, including business leaders, will sign accords on banking, energy and aircraft construction.