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Vatican, Moscow pursue a 'delicate' cooperation.

NEW YORK - Relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are better than they were two years ago, but still "delicate and difficult," Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, whom Pope John Paul II named Apostolic Administrator of Moscow in 1991, said last week while on a visit here.

The leader of 300,000 Catholics oversees an area stretching four million square kilometers - from the Urals to Russia's Euroborders.

His appointment stunned the patriarchate of the ROC, coming just days after the Vatican's Christian Unity leader, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, and the ROC's external affairs chief, Archbishop Kyrill, had met in Switzerland in March 1991 and agreed to consult before Rome made further inroads into the then Soviet Union.

Matters worsened when the Russian media began to refer to the then new Catholic leader as the "archbishop of Moscow," a title the ROC's Patriarch Alexsei reserves for himself

"Don't call me the archbishop of Moscow; it's not good," Kondrusiewicz told journalists Feb. 26 during his first visit to New York. His own title is apostolic administrator of Moscow for the Latin Rite Catholics.

Although Alexsei used part of his Christmas homily to rile against proselytism, he did not mention Catholics by name. Ecumenical relations between the two have warmed to such a degree that Alexsei invited Kondrusiewicz to attend the liturgy and has met with him three times. Kyrill and Kondrusiewicz have also met often and dined together.

On the eve of his U.S. trip, Kondrusiewicz met with Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim leaders for a second time to discuss what to do about the Russian Parliament's plan to amend the religious freedom law.

Should two proposed articles be passed, the state would create a commission to control church activity and would change the process of registration, making it difficult for religions whose centers are not in Russia to be registered. Such a measure could, he thought, severely limit all religious groups, save Russian Orthodoxy.

After 75 years of communism, "Russia is a spiritual desert," Kondrusiewicz said, with sects sprouting up all over. Collaboration between Catholics and Orthodox could help the desert sprout an ecumenical "oasis," he said.

Already, the two churches are cooperating distribute charitable goods and to work with the poor, the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics. Kondrusiewicz is also working with Orthodox Archbishop Sergei of Moscow to send children from Chernobyl and other radiation-affected zones for medical care to Italy, Germany and Poland.

The Vatican is funding an ecumenical children's hospital due to be ready in 1994. The two churches have also agreed to organize a joint program on the family to mark the United Nations' Year of the Family in 1994.

The establishment of a Caritas agency office in Moscow has also sparked Catholic outreach to refugees. The archbishop noted that several thousand are among Moscow's nine million population.

Many of these are from the Central Asian republics and about 6,000 are former students from Latin America and Africa who were sent to Russia by their socialist or communist governments, but who have been left stranded since the collapse of Soviet communism.

The greatest problem facing the church in Russia is property, or rather the lack of it, Kondrusiewicz said. Although 38 parishes have been registered since he moved to Moscow, only five churches exist and three of these are under restoration. The two others must serve the needs of several thousand Catholics in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

It is not uncommon for a Catholic priest in Russia to travel hundreds of miles between parishes and to see parishioners no more than once a month Kondrusiewicz, age 46, told NCR he has journeyed thousands of miles by car, plane, train and boat to minister to his far-flung see.

The 33 priests serving the Moscow diocese are mostly Poles, aided by a few others from Western Europe, the Baltics and Kondrusiewicz's homeland and former diocese of Belarus. Others are expected soon from Canada, France and Italy, he said, and 15 other parishes are likely to be registered. To aid the see, about 40 nuns have arrived, 20 of them Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa.

Kondrusiewicz, who is visiting Washington, San Francisco, Dallas and San Antonio during his 19-day American visit, said the best way the U.S. church could aid the Russian church would be for a parish or diocese to fund construction or restoration of church buildings. He welcomed the presence of U.S. and European church personnel but has found that most of them arrive with "a foreign or Western mentality" that is not always helpful.

He said he hoped the Vatican's new Commission for the Church in Eastern Europe, created to help the church throughout Eastern Europe rebuild itself and its relationship with neighboring Orthodox churches (NCR, March 5), would help to instruct and prepare non-Russian Catholics for work in Russia. He said he only learned of the commission's creation upon arriving in New York.

He stressed that, although a new generation of priests in the West has been raised on the teachings of Vatican Council II, such teachings are largely unknown to Russian Catholics, who prefer to say their rosary - the prayer they used during all the decades when priests were unavailable to them.

New priests who come to Russia and do not give proper attention to the rosary, especially during the month of October, which is dedicated to the Rosary, are seen as defective, even "lazy," he said.

Russian Catholics also love icons just as the Orthodox do, but many of the newly arrived clergy have removed icons, much to the displeasure of Russian Catholics, he said. New converts to Catholicism - there were 500 adult baptisms in Moscow last year, 80 percent of them students - are most attracted by the fact that Catholics pray in the vernacular and have a strong social doctrine, Kondrusiewicz said.

Kondrusiewicz said he longs to have a complete Bible available in Russian. The Old Testament has yet to be fully translated into Russian. He is also hungry for more catechists, he said, and to this end has established St. Thomas College, where 300 laity, many of them Orthodox, are studying two nights a week and all day Saturdays.

He said he is ready to find sisters and to send them to Orthodox churches as catechists. "They will be fine," he said, "as long as they don't mention |filioque' or the |primacy of Peter.'"
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Author:Lefevere, Patricia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Mar 12, 1993
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