Moscow Meeting Stirs Catholic-Orthodox Optimism

Study to Examine If Claims of Proselytism Are Founded

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MOSCOW, MAY 30, 2004 ( Catholics and Russian Orthodox are undertaking a study to see if proselytism really is a problem in this country.

The move follows the first meeting of a joint working group that is trying to resolve specific issues between the two Churches. The May 5-6 meeting has given rise to cautious optimism.

«Despite the great difficulties, in this last period of relations between our Churches we have noted some positive changes,» reported a statement circulated by Father Igor Kowalevski, secretary of the Russian episcopal conference.

The joint working panel is the result of a visit to Moscow last February by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Among the issues being addressed are the Orthodox accusations of proselytism against the Catholics. Father Kowalevski heads the Catholic side, and Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin leads the Orthodox.

The Catholic side said that the joint working group cannot be considered as a type of «tribunal,» but must serve to help growth in mutual understanding, the Italian newspaper Avvenire reported.

Father Kowalevski stated in a note that the Orthodox side recognized the existence of «positive experiences of collaboration that can make the peace of Christ shine in today’s world.»

«Together, we have come to the conclusion that greater reciprocal knowledge and closer collaboration and cooperation, especially in social activities, is absolutely necessary,» he added.

As a result of this first meeting of the mixed group, «a concrete study» has been initiated «of the problem of proselytism — real or imaginary — with the participation of those directly involved,» Anatoly Krasikov told Avvenire.

Krasikov is director of the Center of Socio-Religious Studies of the European Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and honorary president of the Euro-Asian headquarters of the International Association for Religious Liberty.

According to Krasikov, Archpriest Chaplin acknowledged that Catholics work in Russia in full conformity with the country’s constitution and laws, although the latter added that Christian churches cannot act as if they were private enterprises in competition with one another.

Father Kowalevski noted: «We have been, are, and always will be a confessional minority here. Perhaps we have committed some errors in the past, but it had nothing to do with proselytism.»

Mention was also made during the meeting of the charitable work of Catholic nuns who have established an orphanage in Moscow for «difficult» children, yet take them to pray in the Orthodox Church.

Russia’s Caritas, which helps the needy and makes no confessional distinctions, was also singled out, as was St. Thomas Theological Biblical College in Moscow, where teaching is entrusted without discrimination to Catholic and Orthodox professors, a fact «that doesn’t surprise anyone,» Krasikov observed.

In addition, he mentioned a Catholic center for the medical rehabilitation of drug addicts in the Yaroslav area. «By common agreement, religious care is ensured by Orthodox priests,» he said.

The joint working group plans to meet next in September.

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