Russian Orthodox Unleash New Barrage on Catholic Church

Letter Reiterates «Proselytism» Claim; Targets Include Mother Teresa’s Nuns

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ROME, JULY 4, 2002 ( The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, again accusing Catholics of proselytism in Russian territory, says that even those who do not profess to be believers, have a generic interest in Orthodoxy.

As a result, says Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, «Western missionaries take advantage of the soil we have made fertile.»

Metropolitan Kirill, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, made his comments in a letter addressed to Cardinal Walter Kasper and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. The letter was published in a press statement.

The letter attempts to explain the accusation of proselytism leveled by the Orthodox against the Catholics, especially after John Paul II erected four dioceses in the Russian Federation.

The text is supported by 15 documents on the «activities of proselytism of Catholic organizations in Russia,» which the Orthodox consider their own canonical territory.

Russian Catholics and the Vatican have always explained that the Church’s missionary activity is not directed at Orthodox faithful but at those who are ignorant of the Gospel. Metropolitan Kirill’s response is that, despite years of Soviet persecution, thanks to Orthodoxy, there is a generic interest in the faith even among those who do not profess to be believers.

For his part, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz of the Russian capital responded by suggesting that Orthodox and Catholics discuss together the meaning of the term «proselytism.»

The dossier severely criticizes Bishop Jerzy Mazur of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, in eastern Siberia, who was expelled from Russia with no explanation in April. President Vladimir Putin has not responded to a personal letter from John Paul II on the matter.

The Moscow Patriarchate does not refer to the Bishop Mazur’s canceled visa. Rather, it cites what it calls «proofs» of his «proselytism.» Kirill’s statement attacks him for being a religious of the Society of the Divine Word, a congregation that is «guilty» of promoting activities for adolescents and youths in Moscow.

The document also states that in the 1980s, Jerzy Mazur studied missiology at the Gregorian University in Rome. Consequently, with «such formation, he cannot but promote missionary activity on a large scale,» the text continues.

The letter also accuses the «welfare» activity of the religious orders. It lists the communities present in Russia, including the Dominicans, Jesuits, Holy Family missionaries, and Sons of Divine Providence. They are all regarded as a hostile presence.

«In today’s Russia, the number of Catholics is such that it does not warrant the presence of so many communities,» Metropolitan Kirill said categorically.

The letter even attacks Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity. «The word missionaries appears in their name,» it said. «In their house in Moscow, they take children off the streets and direct them to Catholicism.»

«Nothing new!» Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz exclaimed after reading the accusations by the Orthodox. The archbishop, who has just returned to Moscow after receiving the pallium from John Paul II, said, «We are now used to being attacked, but our desire for dialogue is not detained.»

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz explained that the accusation of proselytism is supported «by a list of meaningless deeds and episodes.»

Speaking about a message he plans to send to Patriarch Alexy II, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said: «I make a proposal: Let us, Catholics and Orthodox, sit down together and define in black and white what is or is not proselytism. If we can at least understand one another on this point, the future will be less complicated than the present.»

«I know and esteem many personalities of the patriarchate,» he added, «and I know that they are open and tolerant, as demonstrated by ordinary cooperation in many cities.»

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