Rome and Moscow - a willing separation?
- 2004.06.03 Asia News:
3 June, 2004
RUSSIA - VATICAN
Rome and Moscow: a willing separation?
by Vladimir Rozanskij
Proselytism is a trivial problem compared to necessity of evangelising the
world. A Russian expert analyses the results obtained by the
Moscow (AsiaNews) - Cardinal Walter Kasper's recent visit to Russia is
beginning to be show its first fruits. Probably, the most important result
of the trip is the organisation of the Joint (Orthodox-Catholic) Working
Group. The Joint Group, which started its activity in May, is established
to analyse the various existing controversies between the two Churches, and
to suggest possible solutions.
Members of the group unofficially reported that the relationship between
the Catholic and Orthodox participants was welcoming and friendly, despite
the difficult issues that the Group had to discuss: the legitimacy of the
"acts of proselytism" on the part of the catholic Church in the 15 years
since the borders to the former Soviet countries opened.
The peaceful atmosphere that pervaded the Group's meetings does not
spring from any great achievement, but from the spirit of diversity that
animates the protagonists of this new season of ecumenical dialogue. Almost
with a sense of freedom, in fact, the representatives of the two
sister-Churches were asked neither to work for a re-unification, nor to
organise improbable meetings between their highest ecclesial authorities.
The task is not so difficult, and corresponds to the present reality: The
Churches will take an inventory of the rights and wrongs of the
relationship between the two ecclesiastical communities with a view to
avoid 'stepping on each other's toes' in the future.
More than to 'reunite the family', as it were, this step is more like
asking lawyers to divide assets and define the terms of the mutual, willing
separation between two parties. Despite the doctrine of marriage (which in
the Orthodox Church is not as strict as in Catholicism), nowadays even
Catholics seem to appreciate the advantages of a peaceful "separation".
Before Vatican II the Catholic Church referred to Christians of other
denominations as "dissidents". After the Council they became "brothers"
(even if affected by some minor imperfections), to be welcomed back home.
Now, it looks like they are turning into "willing divorcees".
Therefore, the Group discussed 'concrete things', listing the names and
surnames of those who have offended and betrayed the mission of the
Churches. In truth, it would have been better if the Group had considered
some important statistics as well, to give the true dimensions of the
problem of 'Catholic proselytism'. In Russia there are officially 500,000
Catholics, but only 50,000 of them actually go to church. Most important,
there are only 5,000 Russians who turned to the Church of Rome without
having any kind of Catholic tradition in their families (ie. A German or
Polish grandmother). Among them, only 2,000 had some link with the Orthodox
Church in their past. In Russia live 150 million people
Truthfully, the Group considered some statistics. An orthodox
representative quoted the "offensive" words spoken by Verbist Fr. Jerzy
Jagodzinski, who questioned the Orthodox nature of the Russian population
observing that, "only 1.2% of people in Moscow participated to the Easter
celebrations", 120,000 out of 10 million. Actually, Jagodzinski was being
generous with the Orthodox church: Moscow's authorities confirmed that "for
Easter less than 1% of the population attended any kind of religious
service". In the last ten years, there are twenty times more churches than
there was under communism, with building being built or re-opened. Yet in
relation to the immediate post-communism years, only one third of people
now attend the services.
Ultimately, it seems that the practical things discussed by the Group
concern only "those provincial reports of strategic activities to convert
people of Orthodox roots to another faith and another culture." According
to Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Orthodox delegation.. These kind of
'provincial reports' is a constant in Russian history, which prefers
'informing' and secret accusations to flagrant crimes. The Group was
informed of supposed grave violations that happened in remote locations,
above all in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. Here Catholics are believed
to be have been incited in various sectors, especially within schools,
hospitals, universities and through TV programs. It is important to notice
that Novosibirsk, which is 4.000 km away from Moscow, was the place of
deportation of those considered dangerous by the Communist regime-
free-thinkers and undesirable ethnicities. German Catholics built their
church there in Soviet times. The Catholic activities, therefore, must be
explained in context of the Catholic roots of many living there.
In truth, the real reason behind the reports is something
else. Novosibirsk in fact is a city were Jesuits have concentrated their
efforts, the "Catholic devils" of Russian literature, an expression of the
inferiority complex of the Orthodox towards Western culture. The local
bishop, Mons. Jozif Werth, (a Russian German) is a Jesuit himself and has
called many in his Community to collaborate with him, excluding the
invitation, however, to Jesuits of the eastern rites, in order not to
provoke the distrust of Orthodox authorities. It is as if the Orthodox
Church would say, 'They have tried again to convert us, this time starting
from the extreme peripheries. But again, we have unmasked them!'
Targeting children's activities
Another point of attack of the Orthodox Inquisition are "activities for
children". Here and there, (in fact, always in the most inaccessible
places: Murmansk, Angarsk, Sakhalin) Catholics have been accused of using
schools and orphanages "for profit", to take the souls of those who would
be the future sons of Orthodoxy. The fathers of the Work Don Calabria would
be the worst ones. According to Orthodox authorities, these priests used to
meet in a secret place not far from Moscow airport, in order to organise
their plots against the local church. Actually, the fathers (from Verona)
invested a large amount of money, more than all the money from their
Brazilian and African missions combined, to buy and restore a completely
abandoned tourist center. They wanted to transform it into a modern school,
with independent heating. After 10 years, they have not still not obtained
the permission to open the school. They wanted was to show the Russian
people that Christians can propose an educational method which is
absolutely "secular" in its nature and appreciated in the world.
Paradoxically, they ended up in becoming the symbol of Catholic
proselytism, without even having begun their work. Today the Rodnichock
Center, run by the Fathers, is used only by groups of children who are
always escorted by their lay tutors. The Fathers entirely pay for their
vacations, but not even a single one of these children has become Catholic.
Fr. Igor Kovalevskij (head of the Catholic delegation of the Group) has
held the role of the peacemaker. He acknowledged that "there are some cases
that have generated misunderstandings, as they could be interpreted as acts
of proselytism". Patriarch Aleksij II has taken advantage of Fr.
Kovalevskij's words by declaring, in the presence of Pierferdinando Casini
(the President of the Italian Congress) that "for the first time their was
official recognition of the existence of the problem of proselytism in the
territory of the Patriarchy of Moscow, above all on the part of religious
orders". We don't know how much MP Casini has appreciated these updates of
the Joint Working Group. What is certain is that Orthodox authorities have
always been suspicious about religious orders. Probably, they cannot fully
understand either the independence of the orders from the dioceses (such
thing does not exist in the East), or their missionary nature (and almost
all the Orders have the word 'missionary' in their name). It is not a
coincidence that in the past someone accused even the Indian nuns of Mother
Theresa- who were called to Armenia by the government after the earthquake
of 1998- or proselytising.
In truth, Kovalevskij emphasised that the Catholic Church rejects
proselytism at every level. He added that the Catholic Church has no
intention to proselytise in Russia, as this is a country where it is not
necessary to spread the Gospel. After all, Russia has a long Christian
tradition. It is not the situation of New Guinea or an African country
where it is necessary to preach the Gospel. These affirmations seem to be
not in line with the real situation of the country. Kovalevskij concluded
by saying that "our relationships with the Orthodox church are cold, but it
is not winter yet", echoing Patriarch Aleksij who declared that "there are
some clouds" over our relationship. In this way, with the use of these
weather metaphors, the ecumenical dialogue has taken a new direction, to
divide itself peacefully rather than to unite. Perhaps one can see also the
design of Divine Providence, useful, not only to define new connections
between Christians, but also into affect conflicts on an international
level. Psychological and spiritual confines, more than geographical and
political ones, show the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel of unity and
peace in a world upset by conflicts and accusations for so long. Only in
this Gospel will we be able to find our proper "ecclesial territories".
Copyright © 2003 AsiaNews All rights reserved