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The Catholic Church's Status in Russia

4/28/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz

MOSCOW, APRIL 28, 2006 (Zenit) - On April 13, 1991, Pope John Paul II signed a document that re-established the structure of the Catholic Church in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since then, many changes have taken place in the Church. To learn about them, we spoke with Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow.

Q: How has the Catholic Church in Russia transformed itself after the re-establishment of its structure 15 years ago?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Here I think it's necessary that I speak of statistics. At the end of the '30s of the last century, only two Catholic churches remained in Russia, along with two priests.

We grew a bit in 1991 as 10 parishes were registered "officially." To register, means to present oneself at the Russian Ministry of Justice to be able to have juridical status and status of a physical person.

Also working were seven priests, two of whom were older than 80; there were four chapels and two churches. That was all! There wasn't anything else!

At present, after 15 years, we now have an episcopal conference, not very large because there are only three bishops, four archdioceses, close to 225 parishes and around 25 organizations, such as the seminary; Caritas, which has developed very strongly in the different archdioceses; Radio Maria in St. Petersburg and Radio Don in Moscow, among others.

We also have more or less 270 priests and 250 nuns; in both cases the majority are foreigners, from 22 different countries.

Little by little we are forming priests and, for example, 10% of them are now of Russian origin.

As to the number of Catholics, there are about 600,000 in the territory of the Russian Federation, though some studies point out that they comprise 1% of the population, that is, just under 1.5 million Catholics. However, many are in diasporas or are still afraid to declare their faith, and they must be sought and gathered.

Continuing with the statistics, of the 225 parishes, close to 25% of them do not have their own church. They do not have a place to pray, so they must find an alternative site.

We also have a seminary in St. Petersburg, "Mary, Queen of the Apostles," where about 50 seminarians are studying. The first priest was ordained in 1999, eighty years after any Catholic priest had been ordained in Russia!

In the archdiocese of Moscow there are seven publishing houses that, over these 15 years, have published close to 600 different publications in Russian. So imagine, if every parish priest had at least one copy of each of them, he would have a library!

Q: And, in regard to the Catholic community in Russia, how has it changed?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: I was born in the Soviet Union, specifically in Byelorussia, but I was often in Russia and I remember that there were some parishes, here in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, that were made up primarily of "little grannies."

At present, as you can see, there are many young and middle-aged people in the communities. We are very grateful for these "little grannies" because, thanks to them, the faith was preserved, but it must be mentioned that the composition has changed.

If at the beginning of the '90s the majority of the baptized were adults, today almost half of the newly baptized are newborns, that is, that Catholics now come with their families.

At Easter this year, we saw, precisely, how many people were baptized in Moscow: more than 40, between adults and youths. Moreover, every day more marriages are celebrated between Catholics, which tell us how consciously new families are being formed in the faith.

And the same people who come to Mass, know very well what it's about. For example, the adoration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday lasted 50 minutes, and the people endured, did not leave, and followed the adoration.

This, more than anything else, pleases me much. I also like the enthusiasm of young people and to see how their approach to religion is changing.

I recall that the first Soviet youths who went to Czestochowa to see John Paul II, on returning asked very basic questions, as, for example: How does one become a bishop, a priest? Interesting, of course, but at present we do not have enough time to talk with them. They are now more aware and that makes me happy.

Of course, there is still much work to be done with the community, students, intellectuals; to develop further means of communication, of welfare.

I think that on one hand we can say that in these 15 years the structure of the Church has been developing and, at the same time, people are more spiritual, more active and know what they want from the Church. The Church is not a ...

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