VATICAN CITY — Amid new signs of strain between Roman Catholics and other Christian faiths, the Vatican's secretary of state on Friday defended moves by Pope John Paul II to restore his church's influence in the Soviet Union and the formerly Communist lands of Eastern Europe.
At a historic assembly of European bishops, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, in effect the Vatican's prime minister, spoke in response to criticism from representatives of Eastern Orthodox churches who see John Paul's call for the "re-evangelization" of Europe as a threat to their own religious authority.
A number of Orthodox churches refused invitations to the synod.
One Orthodox representative who did come, Metropolitan Spyridon Papagheorghiou, representing the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomeus, told the 137 synod bishops and their Pope that Orthodox church leaders from Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece stayed home because of the "very strong tensions with the local Roman Catholic communities."
"The whole of the Orthodox church is understandably perplexed (and has) the impression that we are drifting further and further away from Vatican Council II. Territories and countries, for centuries traditionally Orthodox and now liberated from Communist regimes, are considered by our Roman Catholic brothers as missionary ground.