The first volume of the new Russian Catholic Encyclopedia has arrived at a crucial time. A Catholic bishop and priest were recently expelled from Russia, and the Duma has appealed to President Vladimir Putin to close four Catholic dioceses. With religious freedom so threatened, Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow told ZENIT of the need for the encyclopedia at this time. The prelate presented the first volume of the new work Tuesday at the Gregorian University.
Q: Following the expulsion of Father Stefano Caprio and Bishop Jerzy Mazur of St. Joseph of Irkutsk, you spoke about the violation of human rights and the severe limitation of freedom of conscience and religion. You have even said that a campaign is under way against the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: The life of the Catholic Church in Russia is not easy. Indeed, it was not so in past years, either, but following the events of Feb. 11, when the four Catholic dioceses were established, it is really more complicated.
I really do not understand the Orthodox Church´s vehement reaction. It is difficult to understand why they can have their bishops and dioceses in countries like Germany and Belgium and yet we Catholics cannot have the same possibility.
Q: The Catholic Church is accused of proselytism.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: It is an unfounded accusation. Of course, if someone comes to see me and asks me to baptize him, I cannot send him home because he is Russian. For us, the freedom of conscience must be based on the recognition of human dignity and religious freedom. For the Orthodox, if one is Russian by birth, he can only be Orthodox.
Another problem affects the dioceses. The Orthodox say: "One city, one bishop." However, they do not apply this outside of Russia. In Vilnius, where there is a Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis, there is also an Orthodox archbishop. The same is true in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, etc. Why can it not be so in Russia?
Following the Holy Father´s decision to create regular structures for the Catholic Church in Russia, the highest authorities of the Orthodox Church have raised the alarm, saying that they might have a negative influence on the whole of Russia.
However, the people are not in agreement. Radio Echo of Moscow has carried out an opinion study according to which 62% of those interviewed said they see no problem and that it is a normal development.
When the television connection took place between Rome, Moscow and other cities, so that youth could pray the rosary with the Pope, Alexy II, the patriarch of Moscow, said that it was an invasion of Russian territory by the Holy Father.
The same radio, Echo of Moscow, carried out a survey on the issue: 82% of the responses were favorable to the Catholic Church.
Q: How does the Catholic community see this situation?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: We are very worried. Following the expulsion of Bishop Mazur and Father Caprio, there is fear and uncertainty about the future among our faithful. All are wondering who will be next?
Signs of intolerance are also worrying. Last Monday the Russian Orthodox Church held a press conference together with a Pan-Slavic nationalist front, Unity of Orthodox Citizens, to announce that on Sunday there will be demonstrations in 30 cities against the Catholic Church. I wonder what will happen? What will result after these demonstrations?
For this reason, I have written a letter to Metropolitan Kirill, in charge of foreign relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, to President Putin, and to other official personalities to ask for an urgent meeting. I have not received any replies. The only exception is the presidential administration, with which I have met twice.
Q: What can other countries do, particularly the Catholic ones, to promote respect for religious freedom in Russia?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: To date, only the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a clear statement in which it expresses its concern over the situation of religious freedom in Russia. And yet, during the last synod we spoke at length about collegiality. There is no collegiality or solidarity, this is why I hope others will intervene in our favor.
Q: Will the Pope´s visit to Bulgaria at the end of May improve the situation?
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: In general, it will help, as nobody seems to have such radical positions as the patriarch of Moscow. Despite concerns in the short term, I think the situation will improve in the future, as there is no alternative to dialogue.
Last week, Patriarch Alexy II himself gave an interview in which, for the first time, he responded differently to the possibility of having a meeting with John Paul II. Previously he had said: I am willing to meet with the Holy Father after the problems are resolved. Now he said: I am willing to meet with him, if this can help to resolve our problems.
I am not quite sure what we should expect, but all observers have noted a change in tone.