Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr Antonio Mennini, said goodbye to Russia’s Catholic community yesterday. In his address, he appealed for unity against any resigned acceptance of Catholic-Orthodox division. He will now take up his new post as papal envoy to Great Britain after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him on 18 December.
Moscow’s Mother of God Catholic Cathedral was crowded on Sunday for Mgr Mennini’s farewell Mass. Mgr Paolo Pezzi, archbishop of the Russian capital, was among those present. In his homily, he praised Mennini for his work and mentioned the victims of the Domodedovo terror attack on 24 January that left 35 people dead.
Appointed nuncio to Russia in 2002 by John Paul II, Mgr Mennini, 63, will now devote himself to relations with the Anglican Church, after personally experiencing renewed cooperation with the Moscow Patriarchate.
In his goodbye message to Russian Catholics, the nuncio mentioned the steps taken by the Church in Russia. “With perestroika, the Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church, came out of a long period of trials and persecution,” he said. “Now these problems are slowly finding a solution, and Catholics feel increasingly part of the country. This comes with a gradual opening to cooperation and dialogue at the social and Church levels.”
Despite their minority status, Catholics have been able to find an important role in cooperating with their Orthodox brothers. “Culture, education and social services are privileged fields because Christians are increasingly conscious that they must respond together to the growing challenges of secularist society.”
In his address, the prelate stressed this point. “Today the contribution the Catholic Church can make to Russian society and the Russian Church is that of Christian witness and presence, especially in the cultural and social fields, which for historical reasons were monopolised in Russia by the atheistic regime.” Indeed, “I think that Russian Catholics can find their place and discover their mission in society to the extent that they deepen the knowledge and experience of their tradition, of their ‘Catholicity’.”
In bidding farewell, he urged Catholics to bear witness every day. “Do not resign yourself to the division as if it were a normal or even desirable thing. Do not speak in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Do not judge the response you receive to your initiatives. Share the same love that consumed Jesus and “become all things to all, to save at least some” (1 Cor, 9:22).
In appealing to unity, Mgr Mennini did not refer only to relations “to brothers in other faiths or Christian confessions,” but also to “the Catholic community, its associations, parishes and families: that they may all be one so that the world may believe and may be the subject of your daily and lifelong prayers.”
After eight years, his ministry ends in an atmosphere of ecumenism, with himself, as he put it, as a promoter of the ‘ecumenism of love’ urged by Benedict XVI. “Love accompanied by coherent acts leads to trust and opens hearts and minds,” he explained.
At the end of the service, the farewell by the community came to a close with a reception that saw the participation, among others, of Archbishop Pezzi, Moscow’s Library of the Spirit director Jean-François Thiry, and Italian Institute of Culture director Adriano Dell’Asta.
Seen from Moscow, Mgr Mennini’s mandate, inspired as it was by a “mutual respect of traditions”, was a success. During his years in Moscow as a diplomat, he was the author of and witness to some important steps of rapprochement between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate. For example, in 2004, he saw an important event in the history of the relations between the two Churches, namely the return of the Mother of God of Kazan icon.
Mennini was also the first nuncio to Russia from 15 July 2010 when the Vatican and the Russian Federation exchange ambassadors. A few months earlier, at the end of 2009, Russian President Medvedev decided during a visit to the Vatican to upgrade bilateral diplomatic relations by raising the Russian diplomatic mission to the Holy Dee to the status of embassy.
Today Russia’s Catholic community is waiting for Mgr Mennini’s successor. Formally, that can happen only after the departure of the outgoing nuncio.
The list of possible successors includes four names. Mgr Ivan Jurkovic of Slovenia, currently apostolic nuncio to the Ukraine, tops the list; however, no one has so far dared guess who he might be.
In reference to the succession, the archbishop of Moscow simply said that he hoped that the appointment “would be done as quickly as possible, perhaps even before the end of February.”