Russia's Church, Putin welcome new Pope

The Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin said Thursday they expected that newly elected Pope Francis will foster warmer ties between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

"The Russian Church welcomes the decision of the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, and, as before, counts on relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches developing in a positive way," the head of Russian Patriarch Kirill's press service, Deacon Alexander Volkov, told the RIA Novosti news agency.

"We can only hope that he will continue the line of the previous pope and that the positive dynamic in developing relations between our churches will continue," Archpriest Dmitry Sizonenko, secretary of the Patriarch's department for external relations, told RIA Novosti.

Patriarch Kirill has not yet made a public statement on the Pope's election.

President Putin, a Russian Orthodox believer, sent a telegram of congratulations saying that "I am convinced that constructive cooperation between Russia and the Vatican will develop further on the basis of the Christian values that we share."

He wished the new pope "fruitful activity in strengthening peace and promoting dialogue between civilisations and religions," the Kremlin said.

Archdeacon Andrei Kurayev, a reformist cleric, wrote on his blog after the announcement that the new pope "promises huge shocks for the Catholic Church, forcing it to change into a church for the poor, not a church for the prosperous."

He praised the new pope for embracing a simple, humble life: "He has refused to use a limousine. He cooks for himself.. In 2001 he visited a hospice where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 people suffering from AIDS."

The Russian Orthodox Church has troubled relations with the Catholic Church dating back to Soviet times.

Stalin persecuted the Ukrainian Greek Catholic, or Uniate, Church, an eastern rite Catholic Church which is led by the pope, while the Orthodox Church was allowed to operate in a limited way under the control of the authorities.

The Russian Orthodox Church is now concerned over the influence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has enjoyed a revival after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The difficulties have so far ruled out a visit by the pope to Russia or a meeting between the leaders of the two churches.