The video-linkup event Saturday even made Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz fall to his knees and cry out an invitation full of hope: “Holy Father, we await you in Moscow!”
“I cannot describe the joy in my heart,” the Catholic archbishop for Moscow said in a phone call. “For the first time the Pope was among us, even though it was only by television. Now we really await him. We will succeed in organizing this trip.”
Q: It was a historic day for the Russian Catholic Church.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Yes, exceptional, it was a day truly willed by God. We have prayed with the Pope and with thousands of other youths from all over Europe. And then, another special event occurred, but I don´t know if …
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: There were also Orthodox brothers with us in the cathedral, and they prayed with us.
Q: Does Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II really represent such a great obstacle for the Pope´s trip to Moscow?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: No. Patriarch Alexy is great, but God is greater.
Q: How did the Orthodox receive the decision to organize this video connection?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Sparks flew when they learned that the Pope would be connected with us by video, but we expected it. At this time, they don´t miss an occasion to attack the Catholic Church. And yet, on our part, there is the greatest willingness to dialogue and meet. We only ask for a meeting to pray. I don´t think it is an exaggerated request.
Q: Do they always accuse you of proselytism?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Yes. We have no intention to harm the Orthodox Church. They are our brothers in the faith. Why should we rejoice over an eventual weakening on their part?
Q: And yet the facts seems to speak for themselves. The Orthodox Church suffered grave consequences following the disasters caused by Communism. The process of secularization has been strong over the last decade.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Yes, the situation is difficult for all. And it is even more so for them, despite their capillary presence. In Moscow alone, the Orthodox Church has 400 parishes. Last year during Holy Week, the period in which attendance is highest, they reported that the churches received close to 102,000 faithful.
Q: It does not seem an exceptional figure.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Judge for yourself: In Moscow there are 10 million inhabitants.
Q: What are the numbers for the Catholic Church?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: We have some 600,000 faithful in the whole of Russia. Over 65,000 in Moscow alone, which together with St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, is the city where the Catholic presence is most consistent.
Q: From the statistical point of view, they are undoubtedly a minority.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Yes, but this is not what worries us. It would be enough for us to be able to carry out pastoral activities, and we would like to do so without harming anyone, least of all our Orthodox brothers.
Q: Isn´t there a possibility to put an end to the arguments and to coexist at least in an atmosphere of reciprocal tolerance if not collaboration?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: For the time being, no. The decision to transform the apostolic administrations into dioceses has elicited great protests from the Orthodox side.
Q: And yet, over the past few months, it seemed that the thaw had begun with the participation of the patriarchate´s choir in the Mass at St. Peter´s for the Day of Peace, and especially the addresses of Metropolitan Pitrim and of two other important bishops in Assisi.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: In the preceding months we also had numerous positive contacts. Instead, it seems we have returned to the situation of 10 years ago. When the Pope created the apostolic administrations and we arrived in Moscow, there was the same climate of frost and mistrust.
Q: Let´s hope it will not be another 10 years before a return to normality.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: No, maybe three or four will be enough. Maybe less: three or four months …