RUSSIA: Another Catholic Priest and Now Protestants Also Denied Visas.

Tatyana Titova and Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 9 August 2002

Following the stripping of visa from both Catholic Bishop Jerzy Mazur (see KNS 22 April 2002) and Fr Stefano Caprio (see KNS 11 April 2002), on 2 August yet another Catholic priest was refused a Russian visa. Fr Stanislav Krajnak SVD, a Slovak citizen, has worked for the past two years in the parish of the Holy Cross in the town of Yaroslavl, 280 kilometres (175 miles) north east of Moscow. Still serving in his parish at the moment, Fr Krajnak will have to leave the country by the end of August, when his current one-year visa expires.

The secretary of the Russian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Fr Igor Kovalevsky, told Keston News Service in Moscow on 9 August that as on previous occasions the Foreign Ministry has given no explanation for the denial. "Fr Stanislav did not leave Russia during the course of the year, so this was discovered only now." The Holy See's Mission in Russia is making diplomatic efforts to have the denial overturned and the Catholic Church still hopes for a positive outcome.

Fr Kovalevsky added that earlier this year Fr Krajnak was refused a visa to Kazakhstan. When his visa expires, Fr Krajnak had wanted to travel home to Slovakia by train through Belarus, but was refused a Belarusian transit visa. "This leads us to think that Fr Stanislav is on the notorious 'black list' of Catholic priests that they are trying to drive out of Russia," said Fr Kovalevsky. He explained that if one is on the list of those banned from entering Russia then one is sent back to the country from which one has arrived which, in Fr Krajnak's case had he been allowed into those countries, would have been Kazakhstan or Belarus. (That Russia shares its visa "black-list" with other CIS republics is known from the case of American Protestant missionary David Binkley, who was banned "permanently" from Russia in 2000 and was later that year barred from entering Kazakhstan and Ukraine - see KNS 21 July 2000.)

Fr Jerzy Jagodzinski, the head of the Russian Verbists (Divine Word), the order to which Fr Krajnak belongs, told Keston on 9 August that he was extremely surprised by the Foreign Ministry's refusal. "This is a young priest ordained only three years ago," he said. "He has not had any problems during his ministry."

The Yaroslavl parish headed by Fr Krajnak has had an interesting history. According to Fr Jagodzinski there are deep Catholic roots in the town. He and Fr Jerzy Mazur, who was then the head of the Russian Verbists (who subsequently became bishop of Eastern Siberia and was refused entry to Russia on 19 April - see KNS 22 April 2002), visited the parish and began to give it pastoral care. Subsequently, because of a shortage of priests, the Verbists entrusted the parish to Italian priest Fr Stefano Caprio. His Russian visa was confiscated at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on 5 April (see KNS 11 April 2002), and his place as acting parish priest was taken over by Fr Krajnak.

In a separate case, a group of United States citizens who had been working with religious visas with a Protestant church in a town in European Russia have received an official explanation for the denial of their visa renewal applications earlier in the summer (see KNS 17 July 2002). A. Klimov, head of the department for entry of foreigners in the consular service division of the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote to the church's pastor in mid-July declaring that the Americans' "entry to the Russian Federation was denied by the Russian competent organs on the basis of Part 1 of Article 27 of the federal law on the procedure of entry to the Russian Federation and exit from the Russian Federation". Klimov did not explain who he meant by the "competent organs". "The official explanation cited a paragraph that states that our refusal was 'for reasons of the security of the State'," one of those denied a visa told Keston from the United States on 6 August. "Since we are unable to go back right now, we are exploring various ways that we might overturn this decision." Most members of the group - who preferred not to be identified as they hope the visa denials will be overturned - had been working in Russia for several years. (END)