Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Pope John II at the Vatican tomorrow, in a bid to heal the increasing breach between the pontiff and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexy II. Speaking ahead of the visit Putin said: "We have to contribute to the unification of Christianity despite the nuances which separate the various churches and confessions." He added: "We very much hope to contribute to bringing together the positions of the Russian Orthodox church and the Holy See in Rome." But Putin stressed that he will not attempt to secure a visit by the Pope to Russia, insisting that it "is not possible given the state of understanding between the two churches". The 83 year old Pontiff who is in failing health is known to be keen to make an official visit to Russia. But Putin has always insisted that it is up to the Moscow Patriarchate, Alexy II, to invite the Pope and he has set conditions for a papal visit that the Vatican has so far declined to meet. Part of the breach between the two churches stems from the collapse of the Soviet Union when Uniate Catholics of Western Ukraine re-established their churches without consulting with the Orthodox Church. The churches in question were confiscated from the Uniates by Stalin in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, but the Moscow Patriarchate insists either that the churches be used jointly. At the same time the Vatican created four new Catholic dioceses in Russia last year without consulting the Patriarchate, further exacerbating the rift. Putin first met with the Pope three and a half years ago, when he was making his first European tour after inauguration. Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin met with the Pope twice, in 1991 and 1998.
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