DAILY CATHOLIC     WEDNESDAY     May 26, 1999     vol. 10, no. 102

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Catholics request Pontiff visit Moscow and Russia in 2000

          MOSCOW, MAY 25 (ZENIT).- The renewal of the Catholic Church in Russia after long years of Communist oppression gained strength with Sunday's ordination of three new priests. These were the first ordinations in 82 years at Mary, Queen of Apostles Seminary in Saint Petersburg, presently the only seminary in the country. Two more seminarians will be ordained next year,

          In 1991, Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow, Apostolic Administrator of European Russia, had only three priests to serve a territory of four million square kilometers. Because of this, he opened a theological school for laymen to train pastoral agents who would help with the spiritual care of Catholics spread over Russia.

          In the first year of this work, five youths expressed an interest in the priesthood. The need for a seminary on Russian territory soon became evident. It was inaugurated in Moscow on September 1, 1993, with 12 youths who lived in very precarious conditions.

          In 1995 the seminary moved to its present location in St. Petersburg when the authorities returned the top floor of the historic seminary founded in 1877 and closed by Lenin in 1918. The rest of the building has not yet been returned; it is used by a bank and several businesses. Because of this, the library has not been reopened.

          Bishop Bernardo Antonini, rector of the seminary, told the Italian Newspaper "Avvenire" that the new vocations come from both atheist and Orthodox families. Very few are cradle Catholics. Some of them served in the war in Afghanistan. Others attended universities and took courses in scientific atheism.

          "Many are the heirs of the climate of terror, where silence was the rule of life. In order to survive, one could not express one's thoughts, not even to one's family, because even in the family there could be secret agents of the KGB."

          As a followup at the Vatican on Tuesday morning, John Paul II received Youri Mikhailovic Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and his wife in private audience. In the meeting, there was a "useful personal exchange of information to achieve greater cooperation in the material and spiritual progress of the city of Moscow," according to the Vatican Press Office.

          At the end of his visit with the Holy Father, Luzhov met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State.

          On the eve of John Paul II's visit to Rumania, from May 7-9, a group of Moscow Catholics (in total they number more than 30,000) wrote to Mayor Luzhkov, President Boris Yeltsin and Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II requesting they do everything possible so that the Holy Father can visit the Russian capital.

          In another letter, addressed directly to the Pontiff, the Moscow Council of the Laity invited the Pope "on behalf of all the Catholics of Russia" to visit the country. "God willing, we sincerely believe your visit to Russia is possible and we ardently pray it will take place."

          Mikhail Gorbachov invited John Paul II to visit Russia years ago, and during the February 1998 meeting between Yeltsin and the Pope, the Russian president renewed the invitation. The principal obstacle to a visit has been the Russian Patriarchate which, on several occasions, has complained about the expansion of Catholicism in Russia after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

          John Paul II's recent trip to Rumania began a new phase of dialogue with the Orthodox which, as the Holy See spokesman said, at the end of that historic visit, "has opened wide the doors of Moscow to the Pope."

          The Moscow lay Catholics invited the Pope to visit the "third Rome" during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Igor Baranov, one of the 15 members of the Council promoting the initiative and the editor of the Catholic weekly "Swiet Evangelij" (Light of the Gospel), revealed that Moscow's mayor is very enthusiastic about the idea. He is "very interested in the possibility of a great historic event," during that year.

          Luzhov, "the little Tsar," who has changed the face of the Russian capital, is very popular among Muscovites. He has good relations with Yeltsin, criticizes reformers and is not at all sympathetic with the communists. He recently founded the party, "Fatherland," which will support him in his bid for the Kremlin, although to date he has not admitted this publicly. He has a penchant for important political-cultural celebrations, like the one held in the autumn of 1997, on the 850th anniversary of Moscow. ZE99052503 and ZE99052505

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

May 26, 1999       volume 10, no. 102


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