Friday 7 May


by Janice Broun, Keston News Service

The itinerary and arrangements for POPE JOHN PAUL II's visit to Romania from 7 to 9 May continue to give rise to controversy and to disappointment and resentment on the side of Romania's Roman and Greek Catholics. The disappointment is twofold. First the trip appears to be more of an ecumenical visit than a pastoral one; the Pope will remain in Bucharest and all but one of his public celebrations will be �by ticket only�. Second, Catholics feel short-changed in the discussions on the return of property which appears to be working in the Orthodox� favour (see Resolution of Romanian Church Property Conflict in Sight? (23 Feb) and Progress in Property Dialogue Between Romanian Orthodox and Greek Catholics (31 Mar)). They feel that their legitimate expectations and aspirations are being sacrificed to the understandable priorities of Vatican diplomacy, which are to follow the recommendations of the 1993 Balamand (Lebanon) Commission and to keep open all lines of communication with the Orthodox.

Theologians at Balamand, to which Greek Catholics were not invited, recognised that the original creation of �Uniate� churches in predominantly Orthodox regions by a dominant Catholic Church had been the result of unjust pressures and therefore divisive. They recommended that no more such �hybrid� churches be created: 'Uniatism can no longer be accepted either as a method to follow or as a model of unity'. They rejected proselytising from each other and recommended sharing churches whose ownership was in dispute. Property disputes arose first in Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine when Greek Catholics resurfaced after four decades of suppression by communist regimes.

At Balamand the Vatican was realistic; since under communism many people of Greek Catholic origin had come to regard themselves as Orthodox, the Vatican concluded Greek Catholics could not return to the situation exactly as it was before communist suppresion and lay claim to �restitutio in integris�-i.e. restitution of every piece of their former property. In point 31 the document stated 'that Christians must resolve their differences through fraternal dialogue, thus avoiding recourse to the intervention of the civil authorities for a practical solution to the problems which arise between churches or local communities'. In a letter to the Pope, the Romanian Greek Catholic bishops rejected the text (as it was not a matter of dogma). Greek Catholic bishop of Cluj GEORGES GUTIU complained that Balamand discounted their church's distinct ethos, their cultural and spiritual contributions to the Romanian nation, and the outstanding witness of their members under appalling persecution. They contested point 31 because, they claimed, they knew from experience that legal action in civil suits was almost the only way they could get their property back.

In addition to wishing the Vatican would influence the Romanian Orthodox Church to return Greek Catholic property, the Catholics of both rites were hoping the Pope would visit them where the higher proportions of their 1.6 million faithful live: in Transylvania and Moldavia. Even Romania's Prime Minister VASILE RADU reproached the Orthodox Church on 27 February for refusing to consent to the Pope�s visiting Transylvania. The Catholic bishops originally invited the Pope to visit their country, not the Orthodox Church. When Radu took the initiative of issuing a formal invitation to the Pope on a visit to Rome on 6 July last year, he regretted that he carried no invitation from the Orthodox. Only later the Orthodox Church followed suit, so Catholics may feel aggrieved that it is the Orthodox who appear to be laying down terms, just as the Catholics feel they have done at the two sessions of the joint Orthodox-Greek Catholic commission to resolve the vexed issue of property claims.

In its 8 March communique the Romanian Patriarchate expressed surprise at Radu's and the Greek Catholic episcopate's objections. 'The itinerary and duration of the visit were decided on 15 January by Vatican special envoy Mgr. JEAN-BAPTIST RE and the Patriarchate,' it protested. 'So our Church, which has remained faithful to the original agreement, finds it incomprehensible that it is now the target of pressure and unjust and humiliating reproaches that it is limiting the scope and duration of the Papal visit'. The communique shifts the responsibility for any possible cancellation of the visit on 'forces undermining the "brotherly relations" between the two churches'. It gives the Pope's fragile health as the reason for limiting his visit, and stresses that the visit is ecumenical not pastoral.

On 9 March the Romanian Catholic Bishops' Conference rejected the Patriarchate's reasons as 'unconvincing' and insisted there must be additions to the planned itinerary. 'The Orthodox Church maintains that the Pope can only visit Bucharest, so as to meet state and Patriarchate officials, while leaving very little time for him to meet Catholics,' they declared. 'We cannot understand why the Orthodox Church is so set against his visiting Transylvania and Moldavia as well.'

Orthodox sources maintain the limitations were imposed by the Vatican. On 28 April Orthodox lay academic CONSTANTIN JINGA learnt from a reliable specialist on Orthodox - Catholic relations from his Archbishopric in Timisoara that the decision not to visit Transylvania was taken by the Vatican authorities. 'The Vatican is trying to avoid encouraging any sort of conflict. In this case, they would avoid giving the impression that the Pope is sympathetic with what we may call "the Greek Catholic cause"'. Previously Jinga had assumed his own church authorities did not agree with the visit; he admitted some of them were rather reserved, but there was no official statement from them. 'Even if I do understand the reasons for the refusal I still feel a bit frustrated. Why can't the Pope come to Timisoara? There is no conflict here. The city itself is in some way a symbol of tolerance. The answer I received is that generally speaking when the Pope visits a country the agenda is focused on one or two places only.' Timisoara people, indeed, are proud of their city's warm relationships between Orthodox, Roman and Greek Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

What is perceived by Catholics as an Orthodox refusal to allow a Papal visit to Transylvania has only exacerbated discontent in related churches, leading to protests and pleas in March from the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Hungary and on 20 April from the PRIME MINISTER VIKTOR ORBAN himself. In response Romanian State Secretary RAZVAN UNGUREANU told the Hungarian Senate that the Foreign Ministry regarded the Pope's visit as a purely internal Romanian affair.

Within Transylvania there is not only 'disappointment and frustration among Greek Catholics' as Jinga pointed out, but also among the population as a whole. 'Most Romanians want him here - Orthodox included,' according to PROFESSOR NICU DUMITRASCU, lecturer in Cluj Orthodox Theological Faculty. 'The problem is his visit is too short.' Transylvanian intellectuals, being proud of their history as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural state, regard themselves as part of mainstream Europe and resent the dominance of the centralised Bucharest government, with which the Orthodox Patriarchate is closely associated. The Bucharest government regards Transylvania and its vocal Hungarian minority as Romania's Achilles' heel. (A majority of its electors voted for the present anti-communist Democratic Convention government and its associated Hungarian parties.)

Asked whether the Orthodox Church might fear demonstrations by Greek Catholics or Hungarian ethnic minority members, some of whom have an aggressive attitude towards the government, Jinga commented 'They could be a bit afraid - but of the Greek Catholics rather than the Hungarians.'

However, all four Orthodox interviewed by Keston genuinely regretted the inability of the Pope to visit Transylvania but felt honoured that he had chosen Romania for his first visit to a predominantly Orthodox country and regard the visit in the context of Romania as a whole. RAZVAN NOVACOVSCHI of Sibiu Theological Seminary, at present studying in Oxford, discussed the situation with friends from Romania before speaking to Keston. He noted that even an Orthodox congregation in the Dobrudja region south of the Danube where St Andrew evangelised, had invited the Pope to visit them.

According to Novacovschi, the Greek Catholic bishops had asked the Pope to visit Blaj, the very heartland of the Greek Catholics, where almost the entire Orthodox Cathedral congregation had reverted to the Greek Catholic Church and had kept the building. He pointed out that there were practical logistic difficulties including a poor communication network. 'Any Papal declaration would have been closely scrutinised by ordinary church members -as apart from their hierarchy- and the results could have imperiled the improved ecumenical situation which is the main aim of the current visit.'

A Western observer who visits Romania requently told Keston that Greek Catholics had complained that in Bucharest itself they were being marginalised in the programme for the Papal visit. They are not going to be permitted any open-air services, only Mass in the Roman Catholic St Joseph's Cathedral, which is quite small, and there only for an invited congregation. 'The Orthodox have ruled out a visit to the one Greek Catholic church in Bucharest (regained out of five former churches there) on the grounds that it was taken back by force, although the Catholics got it back legally,'he said. The Pope is to visit Belu cemetery to pay homage at the graves of the Greek Catholic bishops martyred by the communists: CARDINAL IULIUS HOSSU, (died 1970); ION BALAN (died 1956) and VASILE AFTENIE (murdered on 10 May 1950). Roman and Greek Catholics are buried here and the graves are visited by Catholic and Orthodox alike. As VIORICA LASCU, President of the lay General Association of Romanian Greek Catholics, told Keston, it too is very small so entrance will be by ticket. All believers will be able to attend the Pope�s open-air Roman Catholic Mass, for which the Catholic bishops have provided eleven trains to Bucharest. (END)

Friday 7 May


by Geraldine Fagan, Aleksandr Shchipkov, Tatyana Titova and Roman

Lunkin, Keston News Service

One prominent American Protestant missionary in Moscow believes that

the current war in the Balkans poses a greater potential danger to

his work than the 1997 law on religion. 'It stirs up the emotions and

provides a scapegoat for nationalists and officials who want to

exploit these emotions,' GEORGE LAW told Keston News Service in a 1

April interview. But in conversations with a cross-section of clergy

and laity from western and western-oriented religious organisations,

Keston found that for most the potential threat from the Russian

public's current anti-western mood has so far remained only


Law, an American Baptist, told Keston that a representative of one of

his partner organisations, Missionary Aviation Fellowship, had

applied for a visa to come to Russia and had been turned down by the

Ministry of Foreign Affairs 'because of the situation in Kosovo'. If

the situation continued, thought Law, western missionaries and

businesses would be the first to be expelled from Russia, and then

indigenous Russian Protestants would be made scapegoats. 'If it

escalates we could see pastors imprisoned and executed and churches

burned,� he said.

MARINA SAVILEVA, wife of Pastor PAVEL SAVILEV of Rosa, one of the

largest charismatic churches in Moscow, told Keston on 6 April that

there was no anti-American feeling in charismatic churches. She

thought that American missionaries were currently afraid to come to

Russia, and accused the demonstrators outside the US embassy of

hypocrisy: 'They protest against America but they love wearing

American jeans and chewing American gum.'

On 9 April US citizen MACE STANGER related to Keston that he had been

walking along the Arbat shopping street in central Moscow with an

American pastor who had just returned from Novosibirsk when some

young people heard them speaking English and asked where they were

from. On admitting that they were from America, Stanger said that the

youths started jumping up and down and screaming 'We hate NATO!' A

mob started to form around them, he said, but they managed to escape

to the nearest metro station. When Keston asked whether his pastor

friend had encountered any difficulties in Novosibirsk, Stanger said

that he had not, and had been able to go out safely in the evenings.

Now, however, he was 'trying to keep a low profile'.

When asked whether he thought events in Yugoslavia could have

repercussions on Protestants in Russia, Pentecostal bishop SERGEI

RYAKHOVSKY replied that they would undoubtedly have a negative

effect: 'Protestants became so through western missionaries.' He

thought that today's western missionaries could be expelled from

Russia: 'There are already unofficial attempts to do this by organs

of power. There might be attempts to characterise western missionary

work as meddling in the internal affairs of the country.' He was

especially concerned that some Russian Protestants were becoming

indifferent to the presence of western missionaries: 'they have

fallen under the influence of the situation - the patriotic public

mood against the Americans. There will be some kind of Hitler here if

we cut ourselves off from the world.'

In St Petersburg American missionaries were unwilling to meet Keston

and discuss the subject, possibly as a result of US embassy advice

not to go out alone or to speak English openly, and to dress

inconspicuously. However, 'BROTHER DAN', a missionary with Divine

Peace charismatic church who did not wish to give his surname, told a

Keston representative on 16 April that he was not following the

advice of the embassy but living as before: 'God protects me better

than the American embassy'. He said that when he walked around town

freely and shopped without concealing his nationality he had not

experienced any negative attitude towards him from the inhabitants of

St Petersburg. He added that no one from the city authorities was

concerned by the fact that Americans were working at Divine Peace

church, and that he had not heard of any Americans leaving the city

because of the situation in Kosovo.

With the exception of George Law, who described the plight of

Albanians in Kosovo as being 'a greater tragedy' than NATO's bombing

of Serbia, the Protestant representatives with whom Keston spoke were

equally critical of both the Serbs' action and the NATO air raids.

Sergei Ryakhovsky told Keston: 'What is happening is evil - we pray

that both NATO and Milosevic will stop'. He thought that the

situation could not be resolved by force 'as the Americans are

attempting to do. We condemn any attempt to use force'.

On 13 April Pentecostal leader VLADIMIR MURZA told Keston: 'To bomb

Yugoslavia at Easter is a sin. Both your Clinton and Milosevic are

responsible'. Brother Dan told Keston that his fellow church workers

and the students to whom he teaches English were constantly asking

him what he thought of the bombings, and were very surprised that he

condemned US policy in the Balkans: 'They think I should

patriotically support my country'. In his view the US government was

hypocritical in that it defended Albanians but was an economic

partner of China, where the situation of Christians was 'very bad'.

He believed the conflict in Yugoslavia to be among the portents of

the imminent end of the world.

Roman Catholic representatives were likewise critical of NATO action,

but did not believe that the situation would affect how the Catholic

Church was perceived in Russia. On 14 April FR STANISLAV OPIELA of

the Jesuit community in Moscow told Keston that as yet the Catholic

Church in Russia was not experiencing any clear problems as a result

of NATO action. He added: 'Of course the Church is critical of the

bombing' and pointed out that he had just signed a joint protest with


joint protest describes the air raids as 'fraught with shedding

innocent blood of civilians' and setting 'an extremely dangerous

precedent threatening the very principles of international relations

which were established after World War Two'.

On 15 April apostolic nuncio in Moscow FR JOHN BUKOVSKY told Keston

that he had not heard of any missionaries leaving the country and did

not think that the NATO bombings would have any effect on the

Catholic Church in Russia.

On 16 April FR YEZHI YEGODINSKY of the Verbum Dei order told Keston

that on extensive recent travels around Russia as well as to

Sevastopol, the Crimea and Belarus he had not come across any anti-

Western feeling directed at Catholics.

The official statements of the Russian Orthodox Church on the

situation in Yugoslavia are clear. Following a joint liturgy with

PATRIARCH PAVLE in Belgrade on 20 April, PATRIARCH ALEKSI II told the

congregation: 'A handful of powerful and rich countries, who dare to

consider themselves the measure of good and evil, is trampling upon

the will of the people who wish to live differently. Bomb and missile

are pouring down on this land not because they seek to defend anyone.

NATO military action has a different goal... to impose upon people an

order... based upon the dictate of brute force'.

One of the demonstrators outside the US embassy, FYODOR GAIDA, told

Keston that when he was at the Cathedral of the Epiphany on 28 March,

METROPOLITAN SERGI of Solnechnogorsk delivered a hard-hitting sermon

in which he declared: 'We are in Lent and a Christian country is

being bombed. In the West it is Passion Week. If they bomb during

Passion Week to what god are they bringing their bloody victims?'

Gaida related to Keston how the metropolitan had told the

congregation that 'Happy Easter!' had been found written on some of

the unexploded NATO bombs: 'What kind of Easter is that?' He said

that prayers were now being said for a Serb victory in Orthodox

churches, including: 'May God grant victory to the Orthodox Serb army

against enemies visible and invisible�.

Gaida shares the hierarchy's indignation at what he sees is an

attempt by an American-led alliance to foist western values onto a

different culture. 'You will find that no more than five per cent of

the people share western values [material comfort and security] or

will speak openly for them now', he told Keston. 'In the early

nineties it was more like 50 per cent. The first temptation of Christ

by Satan was to turn stones into bread, but man does not live by

bread alone. Most Russians are not Christian but that is close to the

spirit of the people.' Many Russians, he thought, now expected their

country to be bombed either literally or financially - or 'they will

bomb our minds�.

When asked whether he thought that the bombing might have a negative

impact on Protestantism in Russia, Gaida replied that the current

political radicalisation of the Russian populace in general would

affect people's confessional orientations: 'Russia can change only in

a non-democratic direction, which will be bad for Protestants.'

However, he thought that the anti-American backlash 'will not mean

that everyone will run to the Orthodox Church, but the number going

to western sects - Mormons, Christian Scientists - will fall.'

A graduate student of history at Moscow State University, who also

works with the St Tikhon Theological Institute, Gaida said that his

Orthodox faith was a crucial element in his support for the Serbs.

'After all, they are our brothers - not ideologically, but if you

drink from one cup you are brothers, and we drink from one cup in

Christ. If someone is just a Christian he is also a brother, but if

he is Orthodox - whether American, English or Ethiopian - that is

full, absolute communion. And Christ spoke of laying down one's life

for a brother as the greatest expression of love.'

Volunteering to fight was foremost in the mind of SERGEI KUZNETSOV, a

bellringer at St Petersburg's Kazan Cathedral, when he spoke to

Keston on 26 April: 'If I were younger and a bit healthier, then I

might go, but I am obedient to the Church, and I do not have the

right simply to go without the blessing of a priest.' He was

concerned that a person who volunteered to fight for the Serbs might

be thrown into prison on his return: 'After all, our leaders and

policies change so frequently.' Although he said that he did not

really know what was going on in the Balkans, he thought that there

was a religious element to the conflict and condemned the NATO


Speaking to a Keston representative on 25 April, FR NIKOLAI S., a

priest of Novgorod diocese who did not wish to give his surname, also

criticised NATO's actions: 'What the Serbs are doing to the Albanians

is terrible. But the Americans provoked the situation themselves -

they did not take into account the fact that if they should begin to

bomb Serbia, the Serbs would take their revenge on the Albanians.' He

told Keston that as yet none of his parishioners was intending to go

as a volunteer to Serbia: 'If someone decided to go, I could not stop

him. But I cannot and will not give him my blessing, because I am a

priest and not a politician.' In his view the conflict would not end

'just like that', as many people believed, but would be a long and

bloody guerrilla war: 'It is impossible to defeat the Serbs.' He

concluded: 'The world has forgotten God, that is why we have all

these nightmarish wars.' (END)