07/06/2020, 10.45
RUSSIA
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Fr.Opiela SJ, one of the fathers of the Catholic revival in Russia, has died

by Stefano Caprio

First superior of the Jesuits of the Russian region between 1992 and 1998. Protagonist in the days of Solidarność and of the great changes in Poland in the 1980s. He organized the presence of the Jesuits in Russia. The first Catholic priest barred from ministry in Russia after communism. A man of great vision and prophetic intuition.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - On the evening of June 29, the Polish priest Stanislaw Opiela SJ, the first Jesuit superior of the Russian region between 1992 and 1998, returned to the home of the Father at the age of 82. Two days before he died, he had celebrated the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

Opiela was director of the St. Thomas Institute of Philosophy and Theology Moscow, secretary of the Conference of Russian bishops and, before the Russian mission, provincial of the Jesuits in Poland. He was very active in the days of Solidarność and the great changes in Poland in the 1980s.

Like all Jesuits, Father Opiela had received both theological and secular formation, graduating in Polish philology at the University of Poznan. He studied philosophy and theology in France, where he was ordained a priest by the famous Jesuit theologian and Cardinal Jean Daniélou, on June 27, 1970.

He spent several years as university chaplain in Warsaw for, then worked in Rome in the Polish section of Vatican Radio, at a time when the papal broadcaster was capable of overcoming walls erected by political ideologies and spread the word of God to everyone. In 1978 he professed his final vows before the Jesuit superior general, Fr. Pedro Arrupe.

Opiela returned to Poland in 1979, a year after the election of St. John Paul II, to work at the theological faculty of the Jesuits in Warsaw. In 1981 he was the inspirer of Przegląd Powszechny magazine, one of the most important publications in the years of changes in the country, of which he was the long-running editor.

One of the most important circles of opposition  to the Polish communist regime was formed in his magazine, gathering great exponents of culture and art, who after 1989 occupied important positions in the new democratic Poland. Between 1985 and 1991 he was the superior of the northern province of the Polish Jesuits, called "Greater Poland and Mazowskaya", until he was sent to Russia.

In 1992, a year after the appointment of the first Catholic bishops after communism, Fr. Stanislaw organized the presence of the Jesuits in Russia, heirs of a formidable history. In 1600, starting from Poland and through Kiev and the Ukrainian territories, the Jesuits had in fact given rise to university culture in Russia.

Until the mid-1800s, Jesuit schools in Russia taught in Latin. The Jesuits were repeatedly admitted and then expelled from the country; in the late 1700s, Tsarina Catherine the Great refused to suppress the Order, which had been abolished worldwide, in order not to renounce their school system. For more than 20 years, the Society of Jesus survived in Russia until restoration in the early 1800s.

Opiela took care of the works of the Jesuits in Siberia, where the bishop Josip Werth of Novosibirsk, still in office, is a member of the Society, and also in Moscow, where he organized the provincial see. In 1996 he received from Bishop Kondrusiewicz the task of reviving the Theological Institute, founded by the diocese, which still today is an important point of reference for Russian Catholics, with its library formed by the various Jesuit centers in Europe and the magazine "Points ” which he founded.

In order to obtain the state registration of the Russian Jesuit Province, in 1999, the Company was forced to sacrifice Opiela, frowned upon by the Russians since the time of his Polish activities; he was the first Catholic priest who was barred from ministry in Russia after communism.

After Russia, Fr. Opiela returned to work in Poland and then in Strasbourg, at the European Parliament, where he worked as head of the Catholic Office for information on European initiatives. Passionate about mountaineering and cycling, he knew how to scale summits and navigate difficult paths.

He was a man of great vision and prophetic intuitions, capable of simple and immediate human relationships with people of various origins. The Catholic Church in Russia, in Poland and beyond, owes a lot to Fr. Stanislaw Opiela, and would do well to honor his memory.

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