KESTON NEWS SERVICE UPDATE

22 February 1996 Immaculate Conception Church fully returned to Roman Catholic Church After six decades of secular socialist occupation, Moscow's Immaculate Conception church building is now completely back in the hands of the Roman Catholic parish which built it before the First World War. An industrial design firm owned by the Moscow city government vacated its last offices on the building's upper storeys on 12 January. The city-owned firm had dragged its heels to the end, breaking deadlines agreed to by both sides and even trying to get some of the Catholic parishioners arrested in early January, but finally found itself isolated in a secular power structure under pressure from religious-freedom activists both in Russia and abroad. On 7 February parish activist YULIYA PONOMAREVA took KNS on a tour of the newly transferred building in central Moscow. Parts of it - the last parts to have been vacated by the city-owned 'Mosspetspromproyekt' or 'MSPP' firm- had clearly been vandalised. The former office of MSPP's president, which had been a utilitarian but presentable room when Keston last visited it in September, was missing wall panels and lighting fixtures. Mrs Ponomaryeva showed KNS other rooms where windows were missing - making it impossible to heat the building properly - and said that MSPP employees had removed them. In early January, said Mrs Ponomoreva, MSPP called the city police to claim that church workers were trying to steal the city firm's property. A similar call in March 1995 had led to the arrests of several church members, but this time the police told MSPP that the law was on the Catholics' side. Since a city decree had ordered the city-owned MSPP to vacate the building completely by 25 December, any furniture or other items remaining there in January legally belonged to the parish and could be removed only with the parish's consent. In the end the Catholics not only allowed MSPP to move much of its furnitire and equipment to its new location in eastern Moscow, but even provided physical help. On four separate occasions in late 1995 and early 1996 volunteer teams of several dozen parish men helped load moving vehicles with MSPP's desks and other possessions - and even helped unload them at MSPP's new site several miles away. Mrs Ponomareva told Keston that Immaculate Conception now has about 2,000 active members - far more than the space now available for worship could hold if they were all to come to Mass simultaneously. The parish now wants to open up the nave by removing tons of thousands of square feet of internal walls and partitions installed during the Soviet period. Another goal is to restore the church's rare (for Moscow) neo- Gothic facade. Specialists from Poland are already at work. (END)