Pope Benedict and the leader of the Cypriot Orthodox Church pledged on Saturday to work for peace in the Middle East, saying they feared a widening crisis with "disastrous consequences."

In a joint declaration following a visit to the Vatican by Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus, the two leaders said they would "intensify the quest for full unity among all Christians."

Chrysostomos II said earlier this week he would be willing to mediate to try to arrange a meeting between the Pope and the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow, Alexiy II, which would be the first meeting between a Pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch.

Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Church, the most important in worldwide Orthodoxy, have been particularly strained since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The two men said they had considered the "tensions and divisions" in Cyprus and the conflict in the Middle East, "where war and conflict among peoples risk widening with disastrous consequences."

"Our Churches intend to play a role of pacification, justice and solidarity" in the Middle East, they said. "It is our desire to promote ... a sincere dialogue among the diverse religions present and operating in the region."

Pope Benedict told Chrysostomos at a ceremony that his visit was a "very useful initiative to make us progress toward the unity desired by Christ."

The Western and Eastern branches of Christianity have been split since the Great Schism of 1054.

Despite "centuries old divisions, diverging roads and ... the hard work of closing painful wounds, the Lord has never ceased to guide our steps on the path toward unity and reconciliation", the Pope said.

At a later Rome news conference, Chrysostomos said he would travel to Moscow to meet Alexiy on July 13.

He repeated his willingness to try to forge a meeting but also said the Pope had given him no message to pass on to Alexiy and had not asked him to play any role as an intermediary.

Chrysostomos called on the European Union to lodge a formal complaint against Turkey to halt the destruction of Orthodox churches in the Turkish part of Cyprus.

He said Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi had promised to raise the issue at the next meeting of EU leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also given him her full support.

In their joint statement Chrysostomos and Pope Benedict called for greater respect for the environment and expressed "serious concern" about bioethical issues, saying that certain genetic techniques could end up "damaging the dignity of man."