The Challenges Facing the Catholic Church in Russia

One Diocese Is Larger Than U.S.

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ROME, FEB. 12, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- The task of the Catholic Church in Russia can be summarized in two words: evangelization and human development.

In the two dioceses of European Russia, formative and editorial activity is particularly intense, with books published for the clergy and laity. An effort is under way to complete the translation of the missal into Russian and to go forward with the plan for a Catholic encyclopedia.

In the four new dioceses created Monday by John Paul II, 190 parishes have been opened, surpassing the 150 that was the maximum number reached during the first years of the Soviet regime.

Sept. 8, 2000, was a historic day for the country´s Catholics. That is when the Cathedral of Irkutsk in Siberia was solemnly consecrated.

It is the see of Bishop Jerzy Mazur, whose eastern Siberian diocese has enormous needs, social and priestly. Its 10 million square kilometers (an area larger the United States) has 16 million inhabitants and 50,000 baptized faithful.

The bishop is preparing a pastoral program to form an authentic local clergy. It is a partial solution to overcoming the obstacles of a law that favors the traditional Orthodox religion.

Bishop Mazur is also traveling to Japan, the Philippines and Mongolia in search of missionaries who know Chinese and can speak to the people who cross the border into Russia.

Slightly more than 200 priests work in the four Russian dioceses, the great majority of them are foreign, and predominantly Polish (the origin of many Russian Catholics).

Catholics of German origin have diminished considerably in recent years, as many have returned to their ancestral homeland.

Many priests belong to religious communities, including the Salesians, Verbites and Marianists. Women religious are present in virtually all parishes. There are also lay missionaries of ecclesial movements, such as the Focolares, Neocatechumenals, and Communion and Liberation.

A seminary reopened in 1993, and since 1995 has been located in its historic St. Petersburg premises. There is a biannual pre-seminary in Novosibirsk, and a theology «college» for the laity in Moscow. The latter has affiliates in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk, Saratow and Orenburg.

The Church has a weekly and other minor publications, a few editorial groups, a Daughters of St. Paul bookstore in downtown Moscow, a Jesuit television center in Novosibirsk, and two radio broadcasting stations — in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Pastoral work over the first years has focused on the fundamental dimensions of the life of the Church: the liturgy and catechesis. The charitable group Caritas works throughout the territory.

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