Will Pope's Rumania Visit Break Ice With Orthodox?

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It's been a while... Pope John Paul II arrived in Rumania on Friday, the first pontiff to visit Eastern Orthodox territory since Martin I was abducted there in the seventh century. And his historic attempt to heal the 945-year-old rift between the Vatican and the Eastern Orthodox Church may resonate with Slavic nationalist perceptions of the current conflict over Kosovo. "NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia is seen by many in Serbia, and other parts of the Slavic world, as evidence that the Eastern Orthodox Church faces a crusade from the West for the domination of Eastern souls," says TIME Central Europe reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. Despite being grasped in Bucharest, the pontiff's hand of friendship may not be enough to assuage the hostility and suspicion with which the Vatican is viewed in most of the 15 autonomous national denominations of the 300 million-member church.

John Paul II is going the extra mile for reconciliation in Rumania, abandoning Vatican claims on Catholic property confiscated by Rumania's former communist regime and transferred to Orthodox parishes, and also refraining from visiting Transylvania, where the bulk of the country's Catholic minority reside. But the extent of tension between the Rumania's Orthodox Church and its Catholic minority is underscored by a recent agreement that clergy from the two churches would refrain from trading insults and punches. With much of the Orthodox world perceiving itself as under attack in Yugoslavia, the best the pontiff may be able to hope for is to avoid a further deterioration in the relationship. After all, starting over afresh isn't always easy after a thousand-year divorce.