European Russia’s Latin Catholics

text and photographs by Sean Sprague

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Since the demise of Marxism-Leninism and the collapse of the Soviet Union, religion, in its traditional and not-so-traditional forms, has flourished in the Russian Federation.

The vast majority of ethnic Russian believers identity themselves as Orthodox Christians, yet other denominations and sects abound. American-funded evangelical Christians offer large-scale religious spectacles and distribute free bibles. Southern Russia’s Muslims, with Gulf states’ support, are revitalizing mosques and theologates. Once again Buddhist monks pray in their ancient monasteries in the Russian Far East; and marginalized “prophets” prey on the economic and social fears of ordinary Russians.

Russia’s Latin (Roman) Catholics are among Russia’s most significant religious minorities. According to Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the Apostolic Administrator for Latin Catholics in European Russia, more than 300,000 Catholics live in European Russia, a territory of more than 2.5 million square miles west of the Ural mountains. An estimated 250,000 Catholics, led by Bishop Joseph Werth, S.J., Apostolic Administrator for Latin Catholics in Siberia, are scattered throughout the Siberian wilderness and the Russian Far East.

The number of languages spoken by Russia’s Latin Catholics reflects the ethnic diversity of the Russian Federation and the Russian Catholic Church. English, French, German, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and Spanish – all may be heard after the celebration of the Eucharist, which is normally prayed in Russian, the common language of the former Soviet Union. Most of the 100 priests who serve European Russia’s Catholics are foreign-born, but facility in the Russian language is required.

“One day we hope all our priests will be native Russian-speakers,” Archbishop Kondrusiewicz stated from his cramp quarters in Moscow during a recent interview.

Before 1918, 150 Latin Catholic seminarians, all citizens of the Russian Empire, studied in St. Petersburg, the imperial capital. When he was named Apostolic Administrator in April 1991, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz’s primary goal was the foundation of a seminary. Today, 45 young men are enrolled in St. Petersburg’s restored Theological Academy, which was reopened in 1993.

“To assist these future priests in creating a network of catechetical and pastoral services, some 500 students study at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Moscow, an institution with branches in Ekaterinburg, Orenburg and Saratov. A Russian translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,ort funded in part by CNEWA, was a recent priority of the Dominican-run college.”

Latin Catholics also publish a magazine, Svet Evangelica, and operate a radio station. The church organizes special events for youth; 9,800 attended a recent Day of Youth celebration.

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Tags: Russia Catholic Russian Orthodox Church Catholic-Orthodox relations Soviet Union