Pope to cross religious 'iron curtain' in Romania
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- The Vatican confirmed Tuesday that Pope John Paul plans to visit Romania in May, his first trip to a predominantly Orthodox country.
The Vatican issued a statement of an agreement signed Monday by the Roman Catholic Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Romanian presidency and the government. There was no further comment.
Details of the sensitive visit, to take place May 7-9, were finalized Monday after disagreements were resolved between the Catholic Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church over the pope's itinerary and the length of his stay.
Italian media said the Vatican, faced with a hard line taken by the Orthodox Church, agreed that the pope would not travel to Transylvania, where most Roman Catholics in Romania live.
The pope, who has often urged greater dialogue between Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox churches in his ecumenical crusade, will remain in the capital, Bucharest, during his stay.
Officials did not want to risk reopening tensions between Transylvania's ethnic Hungarian population and Orthodox Romanians that the visit might have provoked, Italian media said.
In a rare concession, the pope will first attend a morning service led by the Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist on the last day of his visit, and then hold a Mass in the afternoon, which the patriarch will attend.
On his arrival, the pope is scheduled to meet Romania's Catholic bishops before his official visit to see President Emil Constantinescu at the Cotroceni Palace.
He celebrates Mass Saturday morning at St. Joseph's Cathedral and meets Patriarch Teoctist later in the day.
The faithful in Romania include Eastern Rite or Greek Catholics, who retain much of their Orthodox-style liturgy after acknowledging Rome in the 17th century, and a smaller community of Roman Catholics, who have always accepted papal authority.
Despite visiting more than 100 countries during his papacy, the 78-year-old pope has yet to set foot in Russia, though on a journey to Mexico in January he said he hoped he could one day.
The obstacle is mainly a dispute between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church over church property in western Ukraine.
A meeting between the pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexiy II, would bring together for the first time in nearly 1,000 years two of Christianity's towering figures.
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