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Rome and Moscow - a willing separation?

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2004.06.03 Asia News: http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=902 3 June, 2004 RUSSIA - VATICAN Rome and Moscow: a willing separation? by Vladimir Rozanskij
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2004
      2004.06.03 Asia News:
      3 June, 2004

      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
      Orthodox-Catholic Group.

      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".

      "Microscopic" proselytism

      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".

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