The Gospel teaches that as the women set off to the tomb of Christ on the third day after His death, early in the morning, it was still dark (Mathew 28.2-4: John 20.1). It was dark, not only around them but also in their hearts. Lo! He who had performed miracles, including resurrecting the dead. He who had promised life eternal, He Himself lay in the grave. How to calm their fears? Who at rolled away the huge stone? Oh, how confused and fearful they were when they saw the frightful sight – the open grave and then finally, an angel of the Lord, who asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen” (Luke 24.5-6).
The story of the Gospel has, in its own way repeated itself in Russia. Over the course of 70 years, the Church was persecuted. Although high on the towers of the Kremlin brightly glared the ruby stars, although forty years ago the first astronaut was a Soviet, although our ballet remained the best in the world, although Soviet hockey more than all others won the contest for the world cup, although our domestic science stood at the pinnacle – just the same, darkness ruled in the souls of many of the people. They lacked the light of the Gospel, bearing the truth of Christ as a foundation for equality, justice and peace.
The end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties: In eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union this period brought about a change in the totalitarian, atheist regime and a move over to democracy. Russia got onto the road to peaceful reform and spiritual rebirth. It is a real fact that the gates of hell did not overcome the Church (Mathew 16.18).
With the goal of feeding the souls of the Catholics, who are widely dispersed across the expansive territory of Russia, the Holy Father, John Paul II restored in her (Russia) the structures of the Catholic Church on April 13th, 1991. He founded two Apostolic administrations, correspondingly for the Catholics of the Latin rites of the European and Asian parts of Russia. To each he appointed its own bishop and at the same time establishing the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Russia. This became the start of her rebirth. As it was with other Christian Churches and societies in Russia, other, non-Christian religions were reborn. Sequentially, in 1999 two more Apostolic administrations were formed and a bishop was appointed to each.
For ten years the Catholic Church in Russia has gone through development and moved alond a significant path. In 1991 there were 10 callings to the priesthood 4 temples and 2 chapels. Today there are already 220 callings and nearly 300 small congregations. Overall, the number of registered Catholic religious organizations is nearly 260. The number of priests has grown to 215 and monks to 230. The overwhelming majority of them are foreigners, who have come from 19 countries. Since 1991, the College of Catholic Theology, named for Father Foma Akvinski (since 1999 it is called the Father Foma Akvinski College of Philosophy, Theology and History) has been operating. Also operating is the Philanthropic organization
“Karitas.” Since 1993 the Higher Spiritual Order of Mary – Queen of the Apostles” has been in operation and in 1999, the first priest, who were trained in Russia since 1918, were appointed. In 1996 in Moscow and in 1997 in Saint Petersburg the Catholic radio stations “The Gift” and “Radio Maria” appeared. Since 1994 the weekly newspaper, “light of the Gospel” has been published. In addition to this, there have been magazines and parochial newspapers published. For the past ten years nearly 400 religious and literary books of various denominations and faiths have been published in the Russian language. The preparation of catechisms began among the laypersons, who more and more include themselves in the life of the Church. The representatives of 36 monastic institutions and societies of the apostolic life are working to cultivate the field for the restoration of spirituality in Russia. The young people a re displaying more interest in the life of the Church, which gives us hope that in the future, the Catholic Church will take and active part in the development of an inter-Christian and an inter-faith dialog, as well as in the establishment of ties with the many structures of the Russian society. In 1999 the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation was established. There exist various parochial and non-parochial structures, which are necessary for work of the Church.
Along with this doubtless positive change, it is necessary to note that our Church is trying a massive number of endeavors. First of all it is trying to alleviate the shortage of priests, monastics, catechisms, temples and houses of worship (40% of the followers don’t have permanent places to conduct services). Much needs to be done in the area of pastoral activity, directed towards the developing of a call to the priesthood and monastic life, towards the feeding of families, towards the youth and lay persons, toward a deepening of ecumenism, toward a deepening of the relationships with society. The greater mission stands before us in the field of building the “sensus Ecclesiae” – “spirit of the church”. The Holy Father John Paul II directed his attention to these and similar problems during the first visit of the Russian bishops “Ad limina apostolorium” – “to the apostolic thresholds,” which took place from 4-10 February 2001.
With these accomplishments and problems, we have a arrived at the 10th anniversary jubilee of the restoration of our Church, which is dedicated to the forthcoming Biblical-Ecclesiastical Symposium, at which a plenipotentiary delegate of Pope John Paul II in the person of the state archbishop, Jean-Louis Toran will preside. In the forthcoming forum, as expected, nearly 400 delegates form all the Apostolic administrations of Russia will take part. Also taking part will be guests from abroad, representatives of other Christian faiths, non-Christian religions and government authorities. People of science and culture as well will participate at the symposium, and representatives of 16 established Churches have already confirmed the fact that they will participate in the forum.
The upcoming Symposium – it is, first of all, a thanksgiving to God for the bountiful blessing which He bestowed upon us, as we believe, through the prophesy of His representative, the Holy Mother at Fatima, about the turn about of Russia. It is also a prayer for His blessings in the future.
In addition to this, the Symposium permits us to familiarize ourselves with the history of the Catholic Church in Russia from the day of it’s coming to the country through the past 10 years. The Symposium will present us with the chance to familiarize ourselves with Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran biblical ecclesiology, which doubtlessly will enhance the development of inter-Christian ties. The participation of the representatives of the non-Christian religions will serve as a new call to the strengthening of the inter-religious dialog, which is so small in actuality in Russia. The participation of governmental authorities and other entities of the society will strengthen the mutual interactions with social awareness. The Symposium, serving as an all-Russia forum, called for the strengthening the unity of our Church.
The forthcoming celebration – also with extensive cultural and youth programs, mutual discourse – is with biblical and philanthropic and presentational activities. A theatrical spectacle about Alesander Mena, “At the Nikitsky Gates” which is called “Murder in the Temple. The Imitation” is planned. Also planned are performances of the Stone Choir from Velikij Hoagord. The publisher “Michalineu” (Poland) has already published a photo album of the Jubilee 2000 in Russia and the world, especially for the symposium, titled “The Great Jubilee. The Blessed Summer of the Lord.” The publisher “Istina I Zhizn” (Truth and Life) is preparing the book, “The Spring of Rebirth” for publication. It is dedicated to the development of the Catholic Church and the Apostolic administrative structure in the northern European part of Russia over the last 10 years.
The Symposium is an open forum for all. Therefore, any who wish to do so may take part in the lectures, discussions, cultural programs and in the religious services.
The Symposium is a biblical-ecclesiastic for Catholic Church in Russia, which is moving into the third Millennium, directing its view to the eternal Holy Scriptures, which together with the Old Testament is the well spring of our faith and directing its view to the Church – to the all-encompassing sacrament of the Salvation (II Vatican Counsel, the Dogmatic Constitution, “Lumen Gentium” 48).
Rich with the blessings of the Great Jubilee and the experience of the ten-year history of rebirth, the Catholic Church in Russia is coming into the new era. “Duc in Altum!” “Sail off into the depths!” (Luke 5.4) To quote the Holy Father John Paul II in his Apostolic epistle, “The Approaching New Millennium” the words of the Gospel call upon us to recall with thanks what has been, to endure the present with an open heart and to discover the future with hope (“Novo Millennio Ineunte, 1”). This too is one of the goals of the Symposium.
In handing over the up-coming forum to the protection of Mary – the Mother of the Church, I call upon everyone for their fervent prayers for its success and call for blessings from the hearts of everyone, be they those who work on the preparations or those who will participate.