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Russia Begins 'Year of Merciful Love'

Interview With Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz

MOSCOW, JAN. 28, 2007 (Zenit) - The Russian episcopal conference has declared 2007 the "Year of Merciful Love."

The theme follows 2006's dedication to the "Year of the Bible." Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow explained to us why the bishops decided on the 2007 theme, and what fruits were gleaned in 2006.

Q: Why is 2007 the "Year of Merciful Love"?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Our bishops' conference decided that 2007 should be the "Year of Merciful Love" in response to Pope John Paul II's apostolic appeal "Ecclesia in Europa" and to Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," which, in the second part, speaks about charity.

The theme of this year, "Hasten to Do Good," are the words of Dr. Feodor Haas, a German doctor who spent most of his life in Moscow caring for prisoners and whose motto in life was precisely "Hasten to Do Good."

As the Pope says in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," we want everyone to understand that charity is an integral part of the essence of the Church, whose nature is not only to proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments, but also to undertake works of mercy. As the Pope said in Germany: "Charity must not be separated from the Gospel."

Q: What are the most important activities to be carried out during 2007 in the context of the "Year of Merciful Love"?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: To begin with, all the pastoral messages and sermons will be focused on the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," which addresses charity. A conference dedicated to Dr. Haas, whose process of beatification is under way is planned for April.

I have spoken about this conference with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, president of the foreign relations department of the Patriarchate of Moscow, as we want to invite the Russian Orthodox Church. We hope there will be many representatives of it, because, for both, work with imprisoned people is very important. The Russian Orthodox Church is doing very much in this respect and it will be very enriching to hear its experience.

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin of Fatima, we will hold a conference on May 12-13 given that, such apparitions, are also a manifestation of the charity of the love of God for Russia. At that time, in 1917, the most Holy Virgin predicted somewhat the history of Russia and of the world and called for repentance referring to what would happen here. In her message she also gave us hope of which we are witnesses today.

This 2007 we also want to concentrate the attention of our charitable organizations on communities of the faithful, because charitable activities should be directed to helping those in need and in our communities we have many people that require it. In fact at a Caritas meeting of our archdiocese, held in December 2006, this point was stressed: to help people concretely.

I have also officially requested Archbishop Georgi de Nizhny Novgorod of the Russian Orthodox Church, to send an Orthodox priest to groups that we assist with Caritas to give people the needed spiritual assistance. I made the same proposal last Jan. 15, 2007, to Archbishop Irinarkh of Perm where we have opened a social center and where Mother Teresa's Sisters are working.

The charitable issue in Russia today is very acute throughout the country. There is concern in the government to come to an agreement between the Church and State on the best way to interact in charitable works, because at present Russian laws are not adequate in this aspect; there are contradictions and tax exemptions are not in place. I very much like the Italian example, on paying taxes on the income of physical people, 0.8% can be allocated, if one so wishes, to the Church or to the State for charitable works.

In this way, the individual does not have to give extra money to help but can donate a part of his taxes. I think that in Russia, we must study the Italian experience and allot a certain amount of taxes of businesses and other organizations that wish to contribute to charity.

During the meeting that religious organizations held with the Russian president's administration on the topic at the end of last year, we heard the statistic that in Russia, 12-13% of the population is helped by charitable organizations. That is a very high percentage! Therefore, we have called for a change in the law and given what we have heard from the government, I have hope that it will happen. And, providentially, this common concern has coincided with our dedicating this year to "merciful love."

Q: What fruits were left from 2006: the "Year of the Bible" whose theme was "I Trust in the Lord's Word"?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: In general, very good and new ...

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