A `FORGOTTEN' ENVELOPE
MR. KHRUSHCHEV'S message of greetings of the Holy Father on the occasion of Pope John's birthday, received within the last fortnight, is the first gesture of its kind since the Russian Revolution of 1917. It reached the Pope by strange channels.
No relations of any kind exist between the Vatican and the Soviet Union, so the usual diplomatic channels were not available. 1 he Russian Ambassador accredited to the State of Italy, Mr. Kozirev, asked for a meeting with the Papal Nuncio to Italy, Mgr. Grano, for -official reasons".
At the end of the visit, the Ambassador left on the table-as if he had forgotten it-the envelope containing Mr. Khrushchev's message. The Nuncio could not have received it directly from an Ambassador of a state not recognised by the Holy See.
The Osservatore Romano and the Vatican Press Service ignored the incident. but the head of the Vatican Press Office, Dr. Casimirri, was authorised by the Secretariat of State to say that " the message has been received and has been answered ".
The reply will have had to be sent in the same way that it was received, a request for an interview with Mr. Kozirev, and a " forgotten " envelope left on the table by the Nuncio. Similar procedures are believed to have been used for a Kremlin document on disarmament in the days of Marshal Bulganin's presidency,
Uncheeked rumours suggest that the Pope's reply may have recalled what he has said in the past about the international situation, with special reference to his message of September 10,
Comments on Mr. Khrushchev's gesture interpret it as a piece of propaganda, but there are those who also see it as supporting a whimsical liking which the Soviet leader is supposed to have for the Pope. This liking is thought in some quarters to have had something to do with Khrushchev's reference in September to the peace appeal delivered in that month by Pope John.
One Vatican source has pointed out that it would have been kinder to the Holy Father to let him receive messages from the many Bishops who are unable to communicate with the Holy See.
Rumours have again been aroused about the possibilities of a Concordat between the Holy See and the Kremlin. Last year, when Signor Ermini, Chairman of the Italian Chamber of Deputies' Committee for Education, visited Moscow for study purposes, he brought hack news of statements made to him by members of the Soviet government to the effect that the USSR hoped to arrive at a Concordat similar to the one in force in Poland.
It is thought that the Holy See was not in favour of the idea. as it would "strengthen Khrushchev's position without him 'giving anything in return ". The Polish situation is quite different since so many of the people are Catholics and the Primate, Cardinal Wyszynski has, or had, considerable freedom of action.