John Paul II Meets With Russian Foreign Minister

Catholic Clergy Hindered by Religious-Liberty Law

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 15, 2001 (
John Paul II received Russian Foreign Minister Igor Sergheevich Ivanov in the Vatican this morning, to discuss the situation of Russian Catholics and the Mideast peace process.

In a statement, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Pontiff and Ivanov addressed topics concerned with church-state relations in Russia, particularly the condition of Catholic communities in the Russian Federation.

Some Catholic communities are running into serious difficulties in obtaining legal recognition in the country. The period established by the Russian government to present a request for legalization of parishes and religious organizations ended Dec. 31.

Bishop Jerzy Mazur, apostolic administrator of Eastern Siberia, expressed his concern publicly to VID, a Rome-based news service, regarding the restrictions imposed on the Church by the 1997 law on religious liberty.

Bishop Mazur, as all non-Russian religious, is periodically obliged to renew his residence permit. He once asked authorities what he should do to obtain citizenship. The response was unequivocal: «They told me I would have to marry a Russian woman.»

The law on religion requires Russian citizenship, or at least a «green card» for all superiors of religious communities. It makes no special allowance for foreign priests. Most Catholic priests in Russia today are foreign.

Polish Father Stanislaw Opiela, secretary of the bishops´ conference, has had to return to Poland after being denied a residence permit. «I would like to be optimistic,» he said, «but with every passing day it becomes more difficult to understand what is happening.» The bishops´ conference has not been able to register under the law.

Vatican spokesman Navarro-Valls said that the Pope and the Russian Foreign Minister discussed pressing issues of the «international situation.» Navarro-Valls said that it was possible to note «the convergence between the Vatican and the Russian Federation on many aspects, particularly the complex situation in the Middle East.»

«This exchange of points of view also made it possible to express the Vatican´s known position on Jerusalem,» the Vatican statement concludes. The Apostolic See proposes the establishment of an internationally guaranteed status, which will serve to ensure that the holy places of the three monotheist religions of Jerusalem are duly respected.

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