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Russia's Medvedev To Meet Pope Next Week

Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will hold his first meeting with Pope Benedict during a one-day visit to Italy next week, the Kremlin has said.

Visits by Russian leaders to the Holy See in the past have failed to heal the rift between Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, rooted in a 1,000-year-old schism.

But new hopes of improving ties between the churches emerged after Orthodox Patriarch Kirill took power following the death of his more conservative predecessor Aleksy II in December.

A Kremlin spokesman said Medvedev would travel to the Vatican on December 3 for the meeting but gave no further details. He will be in Rome for regular inter-government consultations.

Medvedev, who came to power in May 2008, sees the Russian Orthodox Church as a key national institution.

In March, he took part in a ceremony in which the Italian government handed a pilgrimage centre in the southern city of Bari to the Orthodox Church. The move was seen as a sign of improving relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.