Future of Church in Siberia May Hinge on Laity

Says Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Jerzy Mazur

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ROME, DEC. 15, 2000 (ZENIT.org).-
Siberia is the clearest proof of the Catholic Church´s dependence on the initiative and contribution of the laity, according to Bishop Jerzy Mazur, the apostolic administrator of Eastern Siberia.

«A situation like that of Eastern Siberia changes the model of the Church in relation to the West,» he told VID, the religious communities´ news service in Rome. «Among us, the parish does not close but, rather, opens to the outside and the laity has a role of primary importance.»

The Apostolic Administration in Eastern Siberia is, geographically, the largest Catholic diocese in the world. It extends over a surface of 10 million square kilometers, an area larger than the contiguous United States. In Irkutsk alone, its headquarters, there are 1 million inhabitants, of whom 50,000 are baptized Catholics. The latter recovered their cathedral on Sept. 8; under the Communist regime, had been turned into a concert hall.

«My first pastoral objective is the formation of the laity,» Bishop Mazur said. «The experience I have from other parts of the world, both in Africa as well as Byelorussia, has taught me that the Gospel must be inculturated, and the people formed in catechesis and family life.»

There are 1 million Catholics in the two Siberias (the majority are either exiles or the children of exiles of German, Polish, Ukrainian and other nationalities). They live in a population of just over 25 million inhabitants spread over 12 million square kilometers. A few priests tried to help them 10 years ago, but they had to work clandestinely.

«A truly formed layman is the future of the Church,» Bishop Mazur emphasized. He believes the parish is the place where «we must meet, to prepare ourselves, to be formed, to study the content of the faith in-depth, but the parish must then go out, look out, address the challenges of relating to the world, meeting social problems.»

With reference to Eastern Siberia, Bishop Mazur said that the challenges begins with the fact of knowing «how to be prepared to undertake ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, because the majority of the population is Orthodox.» Moreover, in this immense diocese of Eastern Siberia, there are «Chinese immigrants, whose very presence constitutes a real challenge to our ability … to evangelize.»

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