Moscow-Lugano - The statement of the Russian Catholic bishops' conference in
response to the decision of officials at Moscow's airport on Friday, April
19, 2002, to deny re-entry to eastern Siberian Bishop Jerzy Mazur, S. V. D.,
upon his return from his native Poland
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA UNDER SERIOUS THREAT
A Statement of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia
The events of the past month show that an organised campaign is being
mounted against the Catholic Church in Russia.
Yesterday, while passing through Sheremetevo 2 airport on his return to
Russia, Bishop Yezhi Mazur, responsible for the Diocese of St Joseph in
Irkutsk, was deprived, without any reason being given, of his visa, which
was valid until January 2003.
He is a Polish citizen and on several occasions he has requested either
Russian citizenship or a residence permit, but was refused. Two weeks ago,
in similar circumstances, an Italian priest was deprived of his visa. It is
becoming more frequent for foreign priests to be obstructed in the exercise
of their pastoral duties.
By such actions, government representatives are, in fact, targeting, in the
first place, Russian citizens-that is, Catholics thereby deprived of pastors
and later, bishops.
Russian Catholics are asking themselves, "Who is next? How much longer will
this continue? Are Russian Catholics covered by the constitutional
guarantees of freedom of religion and the right to have their pastors, even
to invite them from abroad, seeing that for 81 years the Catholic Church was
deprived of the possibility of training and ordaining its own priests?
Could it be the case that the government is treating them as second-class
citizens? Is the period of persecution of the faith returning? What is to
become of Russian Catholics?"
We particularly regret the silence of most of the Russian and foreign human
rights organisations called to protect the rights of religious minorities
and we regret the inaction of the public prosecutor's office, which should
see to the up holding of the law. To date the sole exception has been the
Russian section of the International Association for Freedom of Religion.
In our great concern, we make this vigorous protest at this attack on the
constitutional rights of Russian Catholics. The Conference of Catholic
Bishops of Russia appeals to the organs of government of the Russian
Federation, in particular, to President Vladimir Putin as the guarantor of
the Constitution, to the Public Procurator's Office, to Russian and
international human rights organisations and groups, for the restitution of
justice, for the protection of freedom of religion and for the stopping of
discrimination against Catholics.
Archbishop Thaddeus Kondrusiewicz
Metropolitan in Moscow
President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia