In February last year another foreign Catholic priest who had been working in Russia, Polish citizen Fr Stanislav Opiela, was similarly refused an entry visa.
Keston News Service has recently learnt that a French Catholic monk, Brother Bruno Maziolek, was also denied an entry visa to Russia in December last year, bringing the number of Catholic clergy known to have been barred from the country to seven. Like Fr Opiela, Brother Bruno had previously been working in Russia for the best part of ten years.
Speaking to Keston in Moscow on 29 August, a Catholic who wished to remain anonymous said Br Bruno had been informed by the Russian security services in March that he had not been granted an entry visa because he was deemed a danger to the Russian Federation. Since 1991, according to the source, the French monk had run an exclusively social ministry in a village called Novoye not far from the historic Russian town of Pereslavl-Zalessky, which lies approximately 120 kilometres (75 miles) north-east of Moscow.
Through his independent foundation "Triumph of the Heart", said the source, Br Bruno had set up a children's centre for the surrounding villages and a rehabilitation programme for drug addicts, as well as distributed large quantities of humanitarian aid. All this activity was conducted entirely independently from the Catholic parish in the regional centre of Yaroslavl, maintained the source, with which Br Bruno, who does not speak Russian, had no contact.
The source stressed that Br Bruno had never engaged in catechism - "no one became Catholic in 10 years" - and had offered the foundation's facilities for use by local Orthodox, even building an Orthodox chapel in the children's centre and helping to fund the renovation of two nearby Orthodox churches. However, although Br Bruno "tried to do everything in order to work towards reconciliation with the Orthodox", claimed the source, the Orthodox found this "insufferable".
Interviewed by Keston in Yaroslavl on 5 September, the regional official dealing with religious affairs, Boris Kuznetsov, maintained that, whereas Br Bruno Maziolek had been engaged in charitable work, the Moscow Patriarchate's position was "quite hardline - they suspected it was proselytism". When Keston asked why the secular authorities had ruled that Br Bruno posed a threat to the state, Kuznetsov said that he did not know whether anything had yet been clarified regarding Br Bruno's case, and commented: "I may say it was charitable work, but maybe those who took the decision were aware of another side."
When Keston expressed surprise at Kuznetsov's confession of ignorance since almost a year had passed since Br Bruno was refused an entry visa, he replied: "I don't go deeply into such situations because I don't consider myself a professional." (Several minutes earlier, Kuznetsov stated that, "as a professional", he considered the 1997 law on religion superior to the 1990 law.) In any case, he concluded, once such legal norms were applied, "it is very difficult for us to interfere".
The Catholic source in Moscow presumed that a local Orthodox priest, Fr Oleg Razumov, lay behind the initiative to bar Br Bruno from Russia. "This priest said that he couldn't do anything to stop nationalists he knew from burning down the children's centre," he remarked indignantly. "But if he knows them, surely he could exert his influence over them?"
On 6 September Keston interviewed Fr Oleg Razumov, who heads the missionary department of the local Orthodox diocese, in his parish on the edge of Yaroslavl. Fr Oleg maintained that the Triumph of the Heart Catholic foundation had "practically bought up two villages" in Pereslavl region and created a home for homeless children there, "but there are none." This had confounded the local authorities, he said, and Br Bruno had been unable to explain what he was doing: "He only speaks French, I think."
It was only once the local authorities subsequently tried to close the foundation down, claimed Fr Oleg, that Br Bruno had offered its facilities to the Orthodox: "They began to say that they had built the centre for us." After holding two camps at the centre, however, which he considered to be excessively expensively built, Fr Oleg said that he became suspicious. While there was indeed an Orthodox chapel, he maintained that there was also a Catholic chapel at some distance from the centre which he was not allowed to approach. Despite being told repeatedly that he was welcome to call in on the centre at any time, added Fr Oleg, a centre worker tried to put him off visiting with an Aid to the Church in Need representative by saying that Br Bruno and his co-director Fr Rolf were not in Russia. When they decided to go to Novoye nevertheless, said Fr Oleg, Fr Rolf turned out to be there after all.
Fr Oleg insisted that Br Bruno had been denied an entry visa upon the initiative of the authorities: "We didn't say or write anything." In suggesting possible reasons for the visa refusal, however, he continually shifted between reservations held by the secular authorities and those of the local Orthodox. Maintaining that, as he had illustrated, "Catholics declare openness but on inspection appear closed," Fr Oleg said that the Yaroslavl education authorities had asked to run joint youth camps, but the Novoye Catholics had refused. Fr Oleg then listed numerous other concerns about Br Bruno's organisation: "They would invite former Orthodox priests. It was clear that they were doing missionary activity, and of the most active kind at that: they began to bring in Catholic vestments, service books, altar vessels, so we were upset: They were constantly putting Catholic cards and leaflets in the humanitarian aid they gave us."
When Keston suggested that the Orthodox diocese might be morally justified in opposing these activities, but they did not concern the secular authorities, Fr Oleg appeared surprised. "The authorities somehow felt under pressure from the Catholics, that they were being by-passed," he remarked. "In Russia even a criminal has to take account of the authorities. A lot depends on personal relations. Maybe that's not right, but that's the way it is."
Fr Oleg confirmed that there were indeed ill-wishers who would have burnt down the Novoye centre were it not for his efforts, "but the Catholics won't thank me for that." (END)
Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.