Russian bishop sees positive signs for the Church

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Malaya Gruzinskaya Street, Moscow.

Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/PA

Russia’s first native Catholic bishop in more than a century has defended his Church’s dependence on foreign clergy, while insisting that it has no ambition to “Catholicize the country”.

“There were Russian natives among the bishops here in pre-revolutionary times, so I am only the first in the recent history of the Church,” Bishop Nikolai Dubinin told Russian news agency RIA Novosti. . “As a result of the Soviet-era persecution, our Church was virtually destroyed, so clergy from different countries came here to help. But it took nearly 30 years, among ethnic Russians who grew up in our local Church and took the path of priestly ministry, for a local bishop to be chosen.

The 47-year-old man, born near Rostov, gave the interview on the occasion of his installation, conducted in Moscow last week by the head of the Church, the Italian-born Archbishop Paolo Pezzi. He said he preferred to speak of challenges, rather than problems, facing the minority Catholic Church, adding that there were no longer “serious grounds” to accuse it of “proselytism”.

He said, “Being a relatively small community, the Catholic Church in Russia is challenged to make a positive and constructive contribution as an integral part of society,” said the new bishop, a Conventual Franciscan who has was ordained in 2000 after training in Poland. “If we understand proselytism as the unjust enticement and seduction of believers by deception, with money, etc., then there has never been anything like it in our Church, and I hope that there never will be.We have not and have no intention of Catholicizing Russia.

The Catholic Church, which currently represents less than half a percent of Russia’s population of 144.5 million, was savagely suppressed under Soviet rule in 1917-1991, losing almost all of its clergy and churches. As the country’s first auxiliary, Bishop Dubinin will serve the northwestern regions of the Moscow-based Archdiocese of the Mother of God, including Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, where he previously ran a publishing house and taught at the Church seminary.

The other dioceses of the Church, created in 2002 in Saratov, Irkutsk and Novosibirsk, are respectively led by the German-born bishop Clemens Pickel and the Kazakh bishops Kirill Klimovich and Joseph Werth.

In his interview with Novosti, Bishop Dubinin said his family upbringing, with a Catholic mother and an Orthodox father, had “conditioned” his life path. He added that the Catholic Church sees its mission as being to “sanctify” Russian society, but said ties to the mainstream Orthodox Church, which frequently complained of Catholic proselytizing and encroachment in the 1990s , were currently “quite fruitful and good”, despite “stereotypes and misunderstandings”.

“Our Church is open to everyone. If a person comes looking for God and truth and finds them in our Church, we will never close the door,” said the new bishop, who served as Franciscan Superior of Russia from 2005 to 2013. “There are always differences that can be put forward and give reasons for disagreement. But it seems to me that there is nothing insurmountable now – no sharp conflicts and confrontations, thank God.

Martha J. Finley