MOSCOW -- The Soviet Union did not invite Pope John Paul to religious celebrations in Lithuania this year because the Vatican does not recognize Soviet state frontiers, a senior official was quoted this week as saying.
"We are ready for dialogue with all religious organizations, but it is well known to everyone that the Vatican does not recognize the state frontiers of our country and constantly emphasizes this," Konstantin Kharchev said.
"You must admit: Is it comfortable to invite guests into your home if they do not recognize you as the master of that home?" said Kharchev, chairman of the Soviet Union's Council for Religious Affairs.
Kharchev made his remarks to Harvey Cox, professor of theology at Harvard University Divinity School, who asked him why the pope had not attended celebrations last month marking the 600th anniversary of Lithuania's conversion to Catholicism.
The two men's conversation was reported in the latest edition of the weekly Moscow News.
Kharchev's explanation appeared to refer to the continuing refusal of the Vatican to give official recognition to the incorporation of Lithuania and the two other Baltic republics, Estonia and Latvia, into the Soviet Union in 1940.
It was the first time a senior Soviet religious official had given an explicit public reason for the decision not to invite the pope.
The Polish-born pope has spoken publicly of his desire to visit Lithuania.
That republic has strong Catholic traditions and cultural and religious ties with neighboring Poland, and the pope said in 1984 that he had been refused permission to go there.
A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman also has said twice in recent weeks that Moscow has no plans to invite the pope for celebrations next year to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the Christianization of Russia.