KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 29 January 2001

I. RUSSIA: GREEK CATHOLICS - THE LAST UNDERGROUND
CHURCH? �We are not allowed to exist in western Russia,� Greek Catholic
parish priest Sergi Golovanov told Keston by telephone from Omsk on 23
January. Greek Catholics all over European Russia lament that when they try to
form official parishes, `they are told they cannot exist, or there will be bad
relations with the Moscow Patriarchate.' `It is currently easier to be a Greek
Catholic Russian in Munich or Paris than here,' he told Keston, `where we have
become victims of this policy.'

II. RUSSIA: IN MOSCOW SOME ARMENIAN CHRISTIANS MORE
EQUAL THAN OTHERS. Greek Catholics are not the only Eastern-rite
Catholics whose existence in Russia is a delicate issue for the Catholic Church.
Catholic nun Sister Nune - who is from Georgia's Armenian minority - told
Keston News Service in Moscow on 18 January that a community of Catholics
of the Armenian rite has been formed in the Russian capital. It is neither listed
in the official 2000 directory of the Catholic Church in Russia nor advertised at
the church where it meets.

I. RUSSIA: GREEK CATHOLICS - THE LAST UNDERGROUND
CHURCH?

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

All Greek Catholic parishes in Russia are underground, Bishop Yulian Gbur of
the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church told Keston News Service in Lviv in
September 2000. When the Moscow community attempted to register, he
maintained, they were told by officials - in line with the 1997 law on religion -
that this was impossible without the supporting signature of their Catholic
bishop. Since the Greek Catholic exarchate in Russia is under a Vatican-
imposed ban, he said, the hierarch in question is the head of the apostolic
administration of European Russia, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. `He
refused to sign,' Gbur told Keston, `saying it would be viewed as proselytism by
the Moscow Patriarchate, and the consequences would be bad for the Catholic
Church.'

Speaking to Keston by telephone from Omsk on 23 January, Greek Catholic
parish priest Sergi Golovanov confirmed this was indeed the situation west of
the Urals: `We are not allowed to exist in western Russia.' Thanks to his
website on the Greek Catholic Church in Russia, said Golovanov, he frequently
receives messages from Greek Catholics all over European Russia who lament
that when they try to form official parishes, `they are told they cannot exist, or
there will be bad relations with the Moscow Patriarchate.' `It is currently easier
to be a Greek Catholic Russian in Munich or Paris than here,' he told Keston,
`where we have become victims of this policy.' Golovanov is unsure of the
number of Greek Catholic formations in European Russia, but knows of their
presence in Vladimir, Tula, Moscow, Perm, Samara and St Petersburg.

In an official 2000 directory of the Catholic Church in Russia, the Moscow
community of Greek Catholics is referred to not as a parish, but a `pastoral
point'. On 22 January the community's priest Andrei Udovenko - the only one
in European Russia - confirmed to Keston it has the status of a religious group
under the 1997 law on religion. (The only legal rights of a religious group are to
worship on premises provided by its members and to teach its own followers.)
When Keston asked if Archbishop Kondrusiewicz had refused to sign
registration papers, Udovenko simply replied that the archbishop had suggested
it would be better to wait before trying to obtain legal status.

Udovenko told Keston that the community was formed in 1990 and had never
had state registration, although it became part of the Catholic Church in Russia
in 1992. The approximately 40, mostly Russian, regular attendees meet for
worship in the chapel of Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity on the eastern edge
of the capital. In Udovenko's view this situation gave Moscow's Greek
Catholics `enough' freedom: `We don't need to trade or anything. All we need
to do is gather.'

Udovenko claimed the Moscow community is content to be `invisible and
quiet'. If it obtained its own church building, he said, `the priest would not be
free, nonbelievers would come and try to get baptised, there would be financial
issues to deal with.' He estimated, however, that if there were a Greek Catholic
church building, it would support a parish of several thousand people. If the
community were never able to obtain such a church, he said, `there are no
prospects for us � it will all end with my death.'

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz was not available for comment when Keston
contacted the Moscow curia. However, on 11 January chancellor of the
apostolic administration, Fr Igor Kovalevsky, confirmed to Keston that there
were no Greek Catholic structures in the administration. The Moscow
community - which, he stressed, was not a parish � existed within the Latin-rite
structure, said Kovalevsky, and was quite content not to be registered: `At the
moment everyone is happy with the status quo so there is no reason to change
it.'

On 15 January a Roman Catholic source in Moscow told Keston he understood
the Greek Catholics had not been registered because it was `too controversial to
legalise them'.

Although Fr Udovenko told Keston that seasonal workers from Ukraine formed
a significant part of the Greek Catholic presence in Moscow, he thought the
parishes in Siberia were openly tolerated since they were `ethnic Ukrainian'. Fr
Kovalevsky also made this link: `There are of course Greek Catholics in Russia
because there are a lot of Galicians [west Ukrainians] here, especially in
Siberia.' Fr Golovanov, however, denied this was the case. The difference
between Siberia and European Russia was not the number of Ukrainian Greek
Catholics, he maintained, but the attitude within the apostolic administrations:
`Bishop Iosif Werth [of western Siberia] takes responsibility upon himself and
is of truly catholic views, whereas in Europe they are trying to keep on the right
side of the Moscow Patriarchate.' In Siberia, he said, it was the policy to
register a Greek Catholic parish under the apostolic administration if it had a
priest, and there were now four registered and reregistered parishes (a total of
approximately 400 parishioners) in Novokuznetsk and Prokopiyevsk
(Kemerovo region), and Omsk and Sargatskoye (Omsk region). Fr Golovanov
told Keston that his Omsk parish even had its own church building - a former
mosque bought with funds from German Catholic foundation Renovabis.

On 25 January Igor Vyzhanov, spokesman for Orthodox-Catholic relations at
the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, told
Keston the Russian Orthodox Church would naturally view an open Greek
Catholic presence in Russia negatively, `but it isn't very strong right now -
thank God.' As far as he knew, the Moscow Greek Catholic community did not
wish to register. If a hundred Greek Catholics said they needed a church and a
priest the Moscow Patriarchate would not complain, he said: `We can't stop
them - it is for the state to decide.' If they built the church first, however, this
would constitute proselytism, thought Vyzhanov.

Fr Udovenko told Keston his community was not experiencing concrete
obstruction from the Moscow Patriarchate `as yet', while Fr Golovanov said
local Orthodox had tried to warn people about Uniates five years ago, `but they
stopped when it became clear they were merely advertising our presence'. He
added, though, that the current situation meant those wishing to form Eastern-
rite Catholic parishes were turning away disillusioned. `A group forms, sees
that there is no future and splits up, some go to the Latin-rite church - although
it is an alien place to us. Others attend Orthodox churches but are afraid to say
they are Greek Catholic, they pray for the pope in secret.' (END)


II. RUSSIA: IN MOSCOW SOME ARMENIAN CHRISTIANS MORE
EQUAL THAN OTHERS

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

Greek Catholics are not the only Eastern-rite Catholics whose existence in
Russia is a delicate issue for the Catholic Church (see separate KNS article).
Catholic nun Sister Nune - who is from Georgia's Armenian minority - told
Keston News Service in Moscow on 18 January that the worsening economic
situation in Armenia has resulted in the formation of a community of Catholics
of the Armenian rite in the Russian capital. It is neither listed in the official
2000 directory of the Catholic Church in Russia nor advertised at the church
where it meets.

Since spring 2000, Sister Nune reported, the community has met within the
Catholic Church of St Louis every Sunday for half an hour of prayer and song
in the tradition of the Armenian rite. There is no facility for the full liturgy in
the Armenian rite (which is the same as in the Armenian Apostolic Church
except for the addition of a prayer for the pope). Sister Nune explained to
Keston that this would require a different altar arrangement, curtains and other
adjustments - as well as a priest. The community did not have an Armenian
Catholic priest, she explained, primarily because there were very few, and
although Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz had tried to obtain one `it isn't
easy for various reasons'. As a result the Armenians took the sacraments with
the Latin-rite Catholics: `They normally say confession in Armenian - the
priests are very patient.'

Sister Nune stressed that, as in the Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian
Catholic church buildings were of simple construction: `We want to express
that it is our home, to feel at home.' She also said that the liturgy was dynamic
and social, `not like a Latin-rite mass where you just stand up and sit down all
the time.' Both these elements were clearly absent when Keston observed the
Armenian Catholic community at worship on 21 January among the orderly
pews of the sumptuous interior of St Louis. (A maximum of 40 women were
participating while their menfolk conversed outside the church.) A full-length
liturgy would in any case have been impossible, since there was barely time for
the Armenians' worship session between Russian and Polish Latin-rite masses.

As with the Greek Catholics, the Armenians are subordinate to the Latin-rite
administration and are not registered as a parish. At the moment, said Sister
Nune, `we are not talking about a parish, it is forming very slowly. Everyone is
happy with the current situation - that they have been given the opportunity to
pray for half an hour.'

This situation contrasts sharply with that of the Armenian Apostolic Church in
Moscow. Two of the Church's three prerevolutionary church buildings in
Moscow were destroyed under the Soviet regime - the third is a chapel within
the Armenian cemetery. Last summer billboards in Moscow's metro carried
public appeals for the construction of a second church. The appeal website
carries a message from Patriarch Aleksi of the Russian Orthodox Church
expressing the hope `that the Armenian diaspora will soon receive the
opportunity to erect a new church in Moscow.' The church - on which
construction has already begun � is planned to have an area of 885 square
metres - or room for 1000 worshippers.

When Keston visited the Armenian Apostolic liturgy at the cemetery chapel on
21 January, however, there was a maximum of 75 people in attendance, and
although the chapel is not large, there was ample room.

Speaking to Keston on 25 January, Igor Vyzhanov, spokesman for Orthodox-
Catholic relations at the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church
Relations, appeared surprised to learn of the existence of Armenian Catholics in
general. Asked how the Moscow Patriarchate would react if they wanted to
build a church in Moscow, he replied that it would depend `whether there
would be mission or if it were in response to real pastoral need.' In that case,
asked Keston, why had the construction of a large Armenian Apostolic church
been unequivocally welcomed? Because, Vyzhanov replied, `the Apostolic
Church doesn't say that the pope has jurisdiction over the whole world.'

Echoing sentiments expressed to Keston from various Greek Catholics, Sister
Nune gave another reason for the Moscow Patriarchate's disquiet at the
presence in Russia of Catholics of the Eastern rite: `We demonstrate that it is
not the case that Catholicism is something western.' (END)


Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.