By our Diplomatic Correspondent
CAUTIOUS hopes of improved relations between the Church
and the Communist world are being pinned on the prospect of a meeting between Pope Paul and the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, later this month. Though the meeting is not yet certain, Vatican officials say that Pope Paul will undoubtedly grant Mr. Gromyko an audience if he asks for it.
Present plans are that Mr. Gromyko, who already cancelled arrangements for an earlier visit to Rome, will now arrive there next Thursday and will shortly after have a meeting with Italy's Socialist President. Signor Saragat. The final decision on the Papal audience will be made afterwards.
Pope Paul and Mr. Gromyko met before, during the Pope's visit in October last to the United Nations. This was a very informal encounter. The projected audience — if it comes off — will be much more important.
The Pope has now clearly decided to follow Pope John's lead in endeavouring to reach a modus vivendi between Church and State in Communist countries. Careful behind-the-scenes diplomatic soundings. conducted mainly by Cardinal Koenig of Vienna. have prepared the way for the major encounter with Mr. Gromyko.
Pope Paul will probably use the opportunity to press for the recognition of the Church's basic rights in Communist countries. He will also seek to bring a step forward the peace initiatives he launched early last year.
Vatican circles discredit suggestions that the Church-State row in Poland jeopardises the Pope-Gromyko meeting. They say that in fact it makes it more urgent and useful. (The Polish Government ban on foreign Bishops attending the millenary celebrations means that Cardinal Heenan and Cardinal Conway of Ireland, among many other Cardinals and Bishops, will be unable to travel.) As Mr. Gromyko prepares for his Rome visit, however, news comes of renewed persecution of religion in Russia itself. This seems to be an effort to clamp down on the recent revival in Orthodox church attendance, which reached its height during Holy Week and Easter.