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Prelates’ Gesture Eases Faiths’ Strain

Sun., July 27, 1997

Signaling warming ties with the Roman Catholic Church, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II took part in a joint blessing Saturday at a site holy to both faiths.

Alexy and Roman Catholic Archbishop Audris Joseph Bachkis kissed each other to open the ceremony at the Gate of the Sunrise Chapel, each reading a short address and offering a benediction to more than 4,000 congregants.

Among those in the crowd was Lithuanian president Algirdas Brazauskas.

Alexy has been at the center of a political battle over his efforts to curtail the activities of many non-Orthodox congregations in Russia, including Catholics.

Opposition by the Vatican and other international groups convinced President Boris Yeltsin to reject Alexy’s proposed law on “foreign” religions. The Vatican was also displeased when Alexy decided to cancel what would have been a historic meeting with the pope earlier this summer.

In that light, Saturday’s ceremony was an important gesture, the archbishop said.

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