Catholic Dioceses in Russia
Russian Pilgrims Visit John Paul II's Tomb
ZENIT, 5/16/2005
Russia - The first group of pilgrims from Russia since the death of John Paul II will visit Rome, paying homage to the Pope who never realized his desire to visit their country.
"John Paul II did not manage to come to Moscow and now we will go to him," said Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz to Asianews.

The archbishop of the Mother of God in Moscow, who is leading the group of 40 pilgrims, explained that it was the laity that came up with the initiative: "They persistently asked me to organize the trip, which we did not manage to do in time for the funeral because of logistical timing."

"The date of the trip is not a coincidence: I chose May 18 because it's John Paul II's birthday," he added.

The high point of the pilgrimage will be Wednesday, when the pilgrims will attend a Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, and later pray at John Paul II's tomb.

"We will also be present at Wednesday's Audience, and we will see Benedict XVI for the first time," the archbishop said.

The Russian prelate revealed the gratitude Russian Catholics have toward Benedict XVI for speeding up the beatification process of his predecessor: "Right after the unexpected news about the start of the canonization process, dozens and dozens of faithful came to the cathedral to pray and to participate in mass."

He added that May 18 will mark the beginning of a year dedicated to the memory of John Paul II in Russian dioceses. "There are a number of activities on our program: a circulating photographic exhibition, conferences, and the publication of those books of Karol Wojtyla which have not yet been translated into Russian."

The archbishop said that Russian Catholics feel a strong bond with the Pope who "did so much for Russia," but whose dream to visit Moscow never materialized because of firm opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church and its accusations of proselytism.

The atmosphere seems destined to change, he said. "Today the Orthodox Church is much more open to dialogue."

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said that he was confident that the "dream of Pope John Paul will come true." His hopes are pinned on Benedict XVI, who is appreciated by the Orthodox Church for his "solidity of faith and firm positions in matters of doctrine, as in the centrality of Christ for example, even when he was a cardinal."

This could be "one of the meeting points" between the two churches, he said.

The archbishop emphasized that in today's world, all are in "need of a shared witness."

"Between globalization and existing conflicts, the position of the Christian Church is nearly Shakespearean: 'to be or not to be.' To overcome it, there is need of more friendly collaboration, a crucial step towards possible unity," he said.