Russian Mayor Blocks Plan for Carmelite Convent

Orthodox Bishop Saw Proposal as Challenge to His Flock

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MOSCOW, MARCH 9, 2004 ( Tensions between Catholics and Orthodox continue to simmer in Russia.

In the latest development, the mayor of Novgorod, a city north of Moscow, has denied the pastor of the Church of the Assumption permission to build a small Carmelite convent next to the parish.

The convent was to be built in the Verkhnije Pecery neighborhood, a residential zone. However, Mayor Vadim Bulavinov decided that a convent is not a normal house and thus cannot be built in the area.

Orthodox Bishop Arzamas Georgij Danilov of Novgorod had expressed opposition to the convent.

He said he had received letters from «writers, artists and simple people» who feared the construction of the Catholic convent «would be a challenge to the Orthodox,» according to the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

Bishop Danilov contended the region lacks any Catholic tradition and that the new convent would be «an open attempt to convert the Orthodox people to the Catholic faith.»

Following a meeting with the Orthodox leader, the pastor of the Catholic parish, Father Mario Beverati, said: «If the Orthodox diocese is opposed, the nuns will not come to Novgorod.»

During a press conference, local journalist Oleg Rodin explained that before the Communist Revolution of 1917, there was a Catholic parish in Novgorod with 5,000 faithful, two churches and some chapels.

«There is no evidence of intolerance, hostility or conflicts for 100 years between Orthodox and Catholics in Nizhnij Novgorod,» Rodin said.

The journalist added that the two Churches «suffered in the same measure after the revolution. Places of worship were destroyed, both Orthodox as well as Catholic; priests and hundreds of faithful of both confessions were persecuted and killed.»

Relations between Orthodox and Catholics have been strained. The former accuse the latter of proselytizing for allegedly targeting Orthodox for conversion, an accusation that Catholics reject.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow reacted negatively to John Paul II’s decision in 2002 to raise four apostolic administrations in Russia to the rank of dioceses.

Russian authorities later expelled or denied entry visas to the country to six Catholic priests and bishops.

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