Friday 9 July 1999
ROMAN CATHOLICS STRUGGLE TO RECOVER THEIR CHURCH
BUILDINGS IN RUSSIA

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Cossacks in Anapa, 750 miles south of Moscow, forcibly attempted to prevent
the construction of a Roman Catholic church in April, Catholic priest
MIROSLAV YANYAK told Keston: 'During construction the war in
Yugoslavia started, and the Cossacks began vehement protests. They beat up
one of our builders and he ended up in hospital.' The Cossacks, however,
formally withdrew their opposition to the new church building after the
Catholics filed a lawsuit and the local Orthodox bishop agreed to act as a
mediator.

According to Fr Yanyak, when the church responded by filing a lawsuit with
the local public prosecutor and informing the local Duma deputy, the public
prosecutor invited the Cossacks to explain themselves, whereupon they
requested that the lawsuit be withdrawn: 'The most important thing is that we
were not intimidated.' Fr Yanyak told Keston that a written agreement
between the church and the Cossacks was subsequently drawn up with the
help of Orthodox Archbishop ISIDOR of Krasnodar and Cossack Chief
Ataman GROMOV: 'It states that we are brothers in a common faith and is
specifically intended to ensure that the Cossacks do not attempt to obstruct the
construction of our church.' He added that the incident followed Cossack
accusations that the Catholics were from the West and that Fr Yanyak was an
agent of the CIA: 'When I explained to them that Greece - an Orthodox
country - was also a member of NATO, this came as a complete surprise to
them.'

On 8 July the director of the public prosecutor's office in Anapa confirmed to
Keston that the Catholics had withdrawn the lawsuit against the Cossacks and
so no investigations had been conducted by her office.

The situation in Anapa is a graphic illustration of the tribulations faced by the
Catholic Church in its attempts to reverse years of Russian state policy shaped
by distrust of the Vatican. On 22 June Fr VADIM SHAIKEVICH, secretary to
Archbishop TADEUSZ KONDRUSIEWICZ, apostolic administrator of the
Latin-rite Catholics in European Russia, told Keston: 'We do not own a single
building - all our churches belong to the Russian Federation, including the
land on which they stand. For this reason only a very few churches - such as
the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow - have been returned to
us, or more precisely, the authorities have permitted us to use them.' The
status of a second Moscow church, that of St. Louis, was still unclear, Fr
Shaikevich explained; in the nineteenth century it had belonged to the French
�migr� community but it was nationalised in 1855 along with all Catholic
churches on Russian soil. 'President Yeltsin presented it to the French nation
in 1992, but no documents relating to its ownership exist.'

Fr Shaikevich was more positive about the prospects for the former Catholic
cathedral in Moscow, the Church of SS Peter and Paul, outside which masses
currently take place on the street: 'Hopes have arisen for its return - when
mayor of Moscow YURI LUZHKOV visited the Vatican, he promised to help
in any way he could.' However, Moscow parish priest Fr ANTONI GEI was
not as optimistic when he spoke to Keston on 17 June: 'There are no major
changes in the situation regarding the hand-over of the Church of SS Peter and
Paul. We were recently promised that part of the church would be made
available for worship and Sunday school classes, but were subsequently told
that this would be impossible.' According to Fr Gei, the reason given was that
the government owns only a 38 per cent share of the building, with the rest
belonging to private shareholders. 'The only way for us to get the building
back is to prove in law that this privatisation was illegal - after all, the
building was privatised a year after President Yeltsin issued a decree
prohibiting the privatisation of places of worship and architectural
monuments. The Church of SS Peter and Paul is both, and we have already
prepared documents for use in court.'

According to Fr Shaikevich, when the authorities permit the Catholic Church
access to its former property, the best case scenario is if the lease is free of
charge and for an unlimited period. Other churches may be leased free of
charge, but for only 49 years, he said, while there are other 'disgraceful
situations', such as that in Vologda, where the Catholic church has been
privatised and now houses a restaurant. On 22 June Fr YEZHI
YEGODINSKY, head of the Russian section of the Verbum Dei order, which
ministers to the Vologda parish, confirmed that Catholics did not have access
to the church there: 'We tried to get back the church in Vologda for many
years. We ran out of energy and decided to give up the fight and build a new
one.'

The Catholic Church is also facing difficulties in recovering its property east
of the Urals, according to a spokesperson at the curia of Bishop IOSIF
WERTH, apostolic administrator to the Catholics of western Siberia: 'Many of
our churches are in ruins, but in Tomsk and Tyumen they have been returned.
In Barnaul the church building has not yet been handed back; in 1998 its
return was officially decided upon, but then new people came to power and
they have postponed the deadline for its return. The church currently houses a
pharmacy, for which the authorities could find no other place in the city.'

On 22 June Bishop YEZHI MAZUR, Apostolic Administrator to the
Catholics of eastern Siberia, told Keston that the situation concerning the
return of property was poor: 'They gave back one church in Vladivostok, and
in Irkutsk we managed to find a compromise. In Khabarovsk the authorities
responded that the church building was property not of the Russian
Federation, but of the administrative region, and they are currently deciding
how to proceed. In Krasnoyarsk our local priest wrote to the authorities, and I
have written twice, but there has been no response.' In Blagoveshchensk, he
said, the Catholics were on good terms with the Orthodox, who had promised
to vacate a former Catholic cathedral as soon as the construction of a new
Orthodox church was complete.

Fr Shaikevich pointed out to Keston that the Catholics were not alone in
facing such difficulties: 'Similar problems surround the return of Russian
Orthodox churches, as Metropolitan KIRILL recently complained. Unlike
Lithuania, for example, where all Orthodox property was returned and the
Lithuanian diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate became rich, in Russia the
authorities have withheld property from the Russian Orthodox Church as well
as the Catholics.'

According to Fr Shaikevich, lack of formal ownership hinders the revival of
the Catholic Church in Russia: 'The repairs which we are doing - and the
church buildings, as a rule, are in a terrible state - are being done for the
Russian Federation. When we ask the West for money to carry out church
repairs, they ask us to whom the property belongs. When we answer: "the
Russian Federation", prospective donors usually refuse to help us.'

Fr Shaikevich is not optimistic that this situation will be easy to change: 'We
need a law on restitution in order to restore the property situation of the
Church to what it was before 1917,' he told Keston, 'however, the state does
not want this since it would have to give back too much.' (END)


Friday 9 July 1999
METHODISTS DISCUSS ELECTION OF BISHOP

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

Will Russia's newly registered, nation-wide Methodist Church elect a native-
born Russian citizen as its bishop? Almost all of Keston's sources agree that
the answer is 'Yes' - but perhaps not soon. All but a handful of the
denomination's Russian congregations already have Russian pastors; the
Methodists' recent annual conference featured a lively discussion about their
readiness to advance one of those pastors to the episcopate.

A special session of the conference was dedicated to the procedures for the
next election of a bishop. Pastor YERGEN TAARUP, a representative of the
Central Conference of the Methodist Church, announced on the conference's
behalf that in the year 2000 the Russian Church will receive a letter from a
committee of bishops of the Central Conference, which will list candidates for
the bishops' posts in Russia and Scandinavia. The annual conference of the
Russian Methodist Church will also discuss its own candidates, which it may
propose for Scandinavia as well as Russia. For example, the Russian Church
may propose its own candidate for the post of bishop of Norway.

In March 2001 there will be a session of the Central Conference in Helsinki,
to be attended by representatives of all the annual Conferences of the
Churches of Northern Europe. The Central Conference includes 60 persons,
including 12 Russian delegates; thus the Russians will have 20% of the votes.
For a bishop to be elected, he must receive votes from no less than 60% of the
participants, so the election of a Russian bishop will not depend solely on the
Russian delegates.

Pastor Taarup said that it was not absolutely necessary for the Russian
church's next bishop to be a Russian: 'When you think nationalistically, it is
incorrect. We are in need of a person who speaks Russian, understands
Russian culture and can preach in a Russian context. I will truly be glad when
I meet the first Russian bishop.'

The superintendent of the Moscow region, DMITRI LEE, proposed deferring
the discussion until the conference in 2000. The superintendent of the
Voronezh region, VLADISLAV KIM, told the conference that Russians were
still under the influence of a totalitarian consciousness. In his opinion, it will
take several decades for Russia to learn to live as a democratic society. Kim
also mentioned the shortage of ordinations in Russia and concluded that the
Methodist Church in Russia still lacked people truly prepared to serve as
bishops, because no one had the full spiritual experience of the Church. 'If
[the Russian church] puts forward its own bishop, this may lead to a
penetration of secular commercial views into the Church,' he said.

The pastor of the congregation in Otradnoye, ANDREI KOVALENKO,
presented an alternative to Pastor Kim's view - a nationalistic position unusual
among Russia's Methodists. He told the conference that one should respect
those who endured persecution under the Soviet Union, rather than suggesting
that they lack spiritual experience. 'We must love our country. We have
worthy leaders and candidates,' he insisted.

After the conference Keston interviewed the current bishop of Russian
Methodists, RUEDIGER MINOR, whose office had just been so energetically
discussed in his presence and indeed at his initiative. The bishop told Keston
that 'we must find a way to talk about this objectively.' If finally a candidate
from Russia were put forth, he would welcome that, he said: 'there are now
several people whom I see as potential candidates for the office of bishop.'

According to several sources it is entirely possible that at the forthcoming
elections the main candidate will be the current Bishop Minor, who has
headed the Methodist Church in Russia since 1992. He has the right to be
elected for one more term and thus to serve until 2005. (END)