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Catholic and Orthodox discussions confront 'proselytising' accusation

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2004.06.02 AsiaNews: AsiaNews.it - Italy 2 June, 2004 RUSSIA - VATICAN Catholic and Orthodox discussions
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2004
      2004.06.02 AsiaNews:

      AsiaNews.it - Italy

      2 June, 2004

      Catholic and Orthodox discussions confront 'proselytising' accusation

      Conflicts must be resolved before a Papal visit can be planned

      Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Charges of Catholics seeking to convert Orthodox believers are obstructing the Holy Father's visit to Russia.  A two-day meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG), established by the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate, concluded May 6th, with discussions of rules of behavior to avoid conflict and improve collaboration between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church for the welfare of the Russian federation, and to pave the way for Pope John Paul II's  first visit to Russia.  Reports of the meeting were made available days ago.

      The two day discussions held at the Conference of Catholic Bishops building and in the Pilgrimage Center of the Moscow Patriarchate were to look at problems between the two churches "in detail and put forth proposals on how to settle them," according to Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's external relations department and co-chairman of the JWG.

       One of the 'problems' addressed at the meeting is the accusation issued by the Russian Orthodox Church against the Roman Catholic Church for 'proselytising', using Catholic charities to spread the Catholic faith among Russian Orthodox people. The Orthodox presented a long list of examples of such activity by Catholic missionaries on Russian territory. One of the most common complaints was of a number of Catholic children's homes, in Lobnia (a Moscow suburb), Novosibirsk, and theYaroslavl province, where orphans from various religious backgrounds receive an exclusively Catholic religious education. Another situation was cited in Novosibirsk, where announcements of a cycle of catechetical discussions were distributed, containing an image of an Orthodox Mother of God icon, inviting "everyone seeking answers to eternal questions about faith and religion." The catechesis was to take place at the Catholic cathedral church of the Transfiguration of the Lord, though its 'Catholic' nature was not explicitly indicated. According to the report issued by Russian Orthodox officials, "The purpose of such secrecy by the Catholics and imitation of Orthodoxy is of a clearly proselytising nature."

       Father Igor Kovalevskij, executive secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian federation, and co-chairman of the Catholic side of the JWG, acknowledged that representatives of the Catholic Church have made mistakes in Russia, which could be considered proselytism. "Several cases have evoked misunderstanding and could be interpreted as proselytism, although this is not an intentional practice," Kovalevskij stated at the end of the first round of discussions May 5th. "The Church proceeds from the premise that Russia is not a mission field. This is a country with a thousand year Christian culture."

       According to Fr. Igor, the atmosphere during the work was friendly, and advancements in understanding were made.

       "Both sides came to the conclusion about the necessity of informing one another more and of close common action and constructive cooperation, particularly on social projects," he said.  Along with the list of concerns, the Orthodox side also submitted positive examples of cooperation between the two churches, which was supplemented by the Catholic side.

       Pope John Paul II is eager to visit Russia, but Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, insists that no visit will be allowed until disputes between the two churches are resolved.

      Tensions between the churches have historical roots but have increased since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and communist restrictions on religion faded. Catholics number 500,000 amid tens of millions of Orthodox believers.  "Catholics will always be a minority in Russia." Fr. Kovalevskij states. "Our job is the nourishment of Catholics."

      The Joint Working Group of the two churches was created as a result of the February visit of the head of the Pontifical Council on the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper to Moscow. (JC)

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