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Moscow Patriarch Aleksij II Dies

In a message to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Pope recalled the Patriarch?s valiant battle in defense of human and evangelical rights, especially on the European continent.The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksij II, died at the age of 79, after a long disease. Aleksij became Patriarch of all Russia in 1990, the first head of the Church elected without the influence of the Russian government. The Russian Church is the greatest Orthodox community in the world, with 135 million faithful. He was credited with helping restore the freedom and moral authority of the Russian Orthodox Church after decades of repression under communism. But many priests arrested and sent to the gulag accused him of collaboration with the Soviet secret police (KGB). He was considered a supporter of Putin?s New Russia.Ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church was substantially held back under his leadership. He always refused to meet Pope John Paul II, pointing the finger at alleged proselytising by Russian Catholics.The top Vatican official for ecumenical dialogue, cardinal Walter Kasper, sent a telegram of condolences, expressing profound sadness for the Patriarch?s death. He said that, in spite of the difficulties and tensions which have emerged over the years, Aleksij?s personal commitment to improving relations with the Catholic Church has never been in doubt.