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Religious Liberty in Europe (2)

8/9/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, AUGUST 9, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is an adapted excerpt from a report by the charity Aid to the Church in Need on religious freedom.

This is the second installment dealing with Europe. Part 1 as published on Catholic Online.

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Russia

Russia's position regarding religious communities has generally been loyal and neutral, and can be described as improved compared to the past.

Nevertheless, secular and anti-clerical attitudes increasingly similar to the widespread mentality in Western Europe are slowly appearing, alongside the formal respect of the values of Orthodoxy, identified as a fundamental element in the nation's spiritual and cultural identity.

In Russian society's difficult process toward the overcoming of the problems inherited from the communist period, there seem to be encouraging steps forward in relations between the Christian churches, while there are also a number of problems within the framework of interreligious dialogue.

There has been much debate on the draft law which introduces severe control over the 7,000 nongovernmental organizations present in the country, and in particular, on financing received from abroad.

During 2005, problems concerning education, and more specifically the problems concerning religious instruction in state schools, played a leading role in relations between church and state.

The Orthodox Church has for years been fighting for the introduction in schools of the optional course: "Foundations of Orthodox Culture."

The state on the other hand seems to prefer a more secular solution of the problem. The minister for education, Andrei Fursenko, has for some time chosen the middle way, thinking of introducing a course on history of religions held by secular teachers with a degree in history.

One important event, for its impact on public opinion, was the death of Pope John Paul II, as well as the election of Benedict XVI. The global dimension of this event was immediately visible both on television channels, in the main daily newspapers and on Web sites.

Meanwhile, with the registration of the Diocese of the Transfiguration in Novosibirsk, in 2005 the registration process was completed for the four Catholic dioceses in Russia.

Problems have also subsided regarding visas for foreign priests and religious personnel.

The death of John Paul II marked a sort of watershed in positions assumed by the Russian Orthodox Church with regard to the Holy See.

While his death was followed by expressions of respect and condolences from the main personalities in the political, cultural and religious worlds, the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow -- although carefully weighing his words according to the context -- remained within a strictly political and ideological framework.

The election of Benedict XVI was greeted with great interest by the Russian Orthodox Church, which in addition to having always appreciated the doctrinal positions assumed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and his loyalty to tradition, as well as his profound spirituality, probably saw in the figure of the new Pontiff the possibility of "turning over a new page" and more easily establishing cooperative relations.

In relations at various levels between representatives of the Orthodox and the Catholic Church, the awareness has gradually appeared that it is necessary to discover "non-conflictual areas of cooperation," identifiable in cultural, social and educational sectors, from which to broaden mutual knowledge and trust.

The Orthodox Church is increasingly pressed to contribute to solving the serious moral crisis tormenting Russia at many levels: low birthrate, crime, alcohol and drug addiction, corruption and violence within the army.

Anti-Semitism is still strong in Russian society, and reached unprecedented levels in the serious attack on the synagogue in Moscow last Jan. 11.

Islam is progressively strengthening its positions. Moscow is now the European city with the highest number of Muslims, and according to some estimates, the traditionally Muslim ethnic groups will form the majority of the young population by 2015.

The difference with other Western European countries is that Russian Muslims are indigenous populations, present in the federation's territory well before the appearance of Christianity.

Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia

During 2005 in Serbia and Montenegro there was a profound rift in relations between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the homologous Church in Macedonia, whose hierarchy is openly accused of schism.

Freedom of worship for Serbs in Kosovo is still at risk. It is above all risky for the ...

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