Moscow (AsiaNews) – The entrance ceremony of Mgr Paolo Pezzi as archbishop and head of Moscow’s Mother of God Archdiocese was held in the presence of 1,500 worshippers, 200 priests as well as members of the Orthodox clergy, the diplomatic corps and journalists. With the mass performed in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow on Saturday Mgr Pezzi took over from Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the former head of the archdiocese in the Russian capital, who moved to Minsk, in Belarus.
During the ceremony Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, read out a message from the Patriarch of Moscow Alexy II. In it the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church voiced his hopes that the tenure of the new head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moscow would be a time of “good relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches and of an early resolution of the problems between us.”
The message ends saying that it all depends on “how effectively we testify to the world about Christian values,” a clear reference to charges made by the Patriarchate against the Catholic Church in Russia and the Vatican over alleged Catholic proselytising, a major obstacle preventing a meeting between Alexy II and the Pope.
Both Mgrs Kondrusiewicz and Pezzi referred to the issue in the days before the ordination of the new archbishop and metropolitan.
The former bishop of Moscow expressed his regrets that in his 16-year tenure he failed “to establish better relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.”
“I have never promoted any proselytising activities, which are contrary to how I see things as well as to Church teachings,” he stressed. “Never the less, the dialogue was not disrupted, and I wish that the new archbishop may do more in this area.”
For his part Mgr Pezzi, from the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo, explained his point of view on “mission.”
In a long interview with the Russian news agency Interfax-Religion he said that “mission is a testimony of evangelical values [. . . whereas] proselytism starts at the point where the real mission ends. Therefore, if all of us—both Catholics and Orthodox—practice ‘mission,’ we can develop good understanding and pursue unity, as there will be no place left for conflicts ”
In the interview the new archbishop also mentioned some of the goals he has set for himself in his new pastoral role, which he views as a continuation of what Mgr Kondrusiewicz started. In addition to ecumenism, he wants greater care for clergy training, greater support for young priests as well as men and women religious and renewed commitment to face the great problems that affect Russian society.
Currently some 600,000 Catholics live in Russia, although some experts say Russian Catholics might account for 1 per cent of the population, or 1.5 million people.
Currently there are 230 Catholic parishes registered in Russia, plus some 30 other organisations. But some 30 per cent of the parishes still do not have their own churches, which were nationalised in Soviet times, something that is still a serious problem.
Some 300 clergymen from many countries around the world carry out pastoral services.