Church in Russia Is Rebounding, Slowly

4 Prelates Arrive for «Ad Limina» Visit With Pope

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MOSCOW, FEB. 5, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Following its rebirth after the fall of Communism, the Catholic Church in Russia is still small. But it´s growing.

Bishops from that immense land are currently in Rome on their «ad limina» visit with the Pope, giving him an account of what is happening with the Church in the East.

Four Catholic bishops reside in Russia. Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow is apostolic administrator for northern European Russia. Bishop Clemens Pickel of Saratov is apostolic administrator for southern European Russia.

The other two «dioceses» — to date, they do not have this juridical status — are in Siberia. The apostolic administrator in the western region is Bishop Joseph Werth of Novosibirsk, while Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk is responsible for eastern Siberia and the Far East. These are the most extensive dioceses of the Catholic Church.

According to a comprehensive report by the Vatican missionary agency Fides, (http://www.fides.org), John Paul II re-established the Catholic Canonical Sees in Russia and Kazakhstan in April 1991, after having established the canonical structures in the other satellite countries of the former Soviet Union and the regions that became independent in the course of the preceding years (1989-90).

Fides says this brought to completion the first phase of the Catholic ecclesiastical rebirth behind the Iron Curtain, after the latter´s fall.

«The urgency was justified, especially because of the fear that the political vicissitudes would again make impossible the appointment of bishops and the reopening of churches,» the Vatican agency points out.

Since the fall of Mikhail Gorbachev and the coming of the Boris Yeltsin era, the process of democratization seemed irreversible. Yet, the freedom that the Church enjoyed in the 1989-1991 period has been increasingly reduced, Fides states.

Five years ago, the Russian bishops, who at the time numbered only two (the Sees of Saratov and Irkutsk were nonexistent), had already gone to Rome to see the Pope on an «ad limina» visit. Their report was clear: The Church was reborn, but it lacked virtually everything: «The faithful were beginning to relearn the Mass prayers, the post-conciliar reform was unknown by the few courageous [people] who kept the faith in conditions of clandestinity and persecution,» Fides reports.

The missionary agency says there are close to a half-million Catholics of the Latin rite in Russia, although official government statistics speak of almost 1.5 million. Of these, between 50,000 and 60,000 are in touch with the Church.

Most of the population, almost 60%, professes the Orthodox Christian faith; Sunday Mass attendance is around 5%. Protestant communities comprise about 2% to 3% of the population, as compared to the Muslims´ (Caucasians and Asians) 15%. There are also 2 million Buddhists and 12 million Jews.

Over the last years, pagan and neo-pagan beliefs have also increased. Also active are sects, including New Age, Scientology, the Moonies, Jehovah´s Witnesses, Mormons and Aum Sinrikyo.

Over these years, the Catholics have succeeded in reopening about 190 parishes, surpassing the number prior to the first persecution, which was close to 150.

There are just over 200 priests working in the four administrations («dioceses»), the great majority being foreign, especially Polish.

Many of the priests belong to religious communities, including Salesians, Franciscans, Jesuits, and Divine Word missionaries. Nuns are present in almost all the parishes. Missionaries of ecclesial movements, such as the Focolares, Neo-Catechumenals, and Communion and Liberation are also present.

A seminary, reopened in 1993, was re-established in the historical headquarters of St. Petersburg in 1995. In addition there is a biennial pre-seminary in Novosibirsk, and a theology college for the laity in Moscow, with affiliates in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk, Saratov and Orenburg.

Caritas, the institution supported by the Church, which channels a good part of the aid for integral development, is extended throughout the territory.

There is a Catholic weekly newspaper, several monthly and quarterly publications, a few publishing groups, a St. Paul´s Catholic bookstore in the center of Moscow, a TV center in Novosibirsk, and two radio stations, one in St. Petersburg and the other in Moscow.

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