Expelled Bishop Preaches to Russian Faithful by Long-Distance

Jerzy Mazur´s Absence Interrupting Aid Projects

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MOSCOW, MAY 7, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Catholic Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk, barred by Russian officials from returning to diocese, has not interrupted his contact with his faithful. He gives them homilies by telephone.

Bishop Mazur takes part in the religious ceremonies of his faithful in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of the Siberian city, connected live from Warsaw, Poland.

On Sunday, the faithful asked to hear their bishop, whose sermon was heard over loudspeakers.

Bishop Mazur´s forced absence, nevertheless, is taking its toll. Several social-assistance projects have been interrupted, including a program for cancer and tuberculosis patients that would have benefited all the inhabitants of the region, one of the poorest in Russia.

The construction of a children´s rehabilitation center has also been halted.

Since Bishop Mazur´s absence, Orthodox activists in Irkutsk have stationed pickets in front of the Catholic cathedral to protest against Catholic «proselytism.»

Similar actions were scheduled for the next few Sundays, though Orthodox Bishop Vadim Labeznyj of Irkutsk has discouraged such initiatives.

In a homily Sunday, Bishop Labeznyj appealed to the faithful not to foment interconfessional discord, because by so doing, he reminded them, they harm the totality of Christianity.

Tatjana Romantsova of the University of Irkutsk, who is gathering data for a book on the history of the local Orthodox diocese, said that the fears about external influences are probably the result of the isolation and suffering endured during the Soviet regime.

Dozens of churches were destroyed in the wake of the 1917 revolution. By 1933, there were only three churches and 27 priests left in the Diocese of Irkutsk.

From 1927 to 1939, 115 priests were sentenced, 98 of whom were shot. All this has left spiritual wounds in the Orthodox faithful that are difficult to heal, Romantsova explained.

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