On Friday April 19, the Catholic Bishop of Saint Joseph’s diocese in Irkutsk (eastern Siberia), Polish born Mgr Jerzy Mazur was returning from Warsaw to Moscow to resume his episcopal duties in Siberia. At about 3pm, border police at Moscow’s Sheremietovo Two Airport took the Bishop’s passport and made him wait for an hour. When the secretary of the Holy See’s Representative to the Russian Federation, Father Tomasz Grysa, who was meeting Bishop Mazur at the airport, asked the reason for the delay, he was told by a border police official that Polish citizen Jerzy Mazur was on the list of persons no longer allowed to enter Russian Federation territory.
Immediate action was taken at various diplomatic levels by the Holy See Representative to the Russian Federation (RF), the Polish Embassy to the RF, and the Holy See’s Secretariat of State in Rome. In Rome the Secretary of State convoked RF Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Vitalij Litvin, who said he knew nothing of the incident. Hopes that the RF foreign minister, following an exchange of diplomatic communication, could influence the decision taken, were dashed. Without any explanation Bishop Mazur had his multi-entry visa, which had not expired, withdrawn and he was declared persona non grata. Diplomats say this is equivalent to being expelled from the country.
At 9pm Bishop Mazur boarded a return flight to Warsaw. This means that the Catholic diocese with the largest extension of territory in the world, has been denied its pastor. This can be considered a violation of the constitutional rights and the freedom of conscience of Russian Catholic citizens, as well as violation of international agreements guaranteeing the right to spiritual assistance.
On April 5 a similar measure was taken with regard to Father Stefano Caprio. The Italian cleric, who serves two Catholic parishes in Russia Vladimir and Ivanovo, had his multi-entry visa seized by border police control at the same Sheremietovo Two Airport without explanation and in an even more unorthodox manner (his passport was returned with the page simply torn out). That day, April 5, Father Caprio was leaving Moscow for Milan. Also in his case, protests made by the Italian Embassy to the Russian Federation and by the Vatican, were to no avail.
Expelling priests and bishops from the country causes serious de-stabilisation of the activities of Catholic structures in Russia. Most of the Catholic clergy and religious in Russia are foreigners sent here from more than twenty different countries to provide spiritual assistance to Russian Catholics deprived of their clergy in the period of atheism. The scarcity of Russian born Catholic priests is due to the fact that at the time of the Soviet Union all the Catholic seminaries in the USSR were closed down, a fact well known to the present day Russian authorities.