Rome (AsiaNews) At the end of today's general audience, Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz gave the Pope the encyclical Deus caritas est in Russian as gift. "The Holy Father looked at the book," said the archbishop of Our Lady of God in Moscow, "and was very happy."
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz was not alone in St Peter's Square, 150 faithful from his archdiocese arrived in Rome two days ago in the largest group of Russian Catholic pilgrims in quite some time.
"The Pontiff walked over to the pilgrims who gave him a vestment with the image of Our Lady of Mercy, an icon from Smolensk and an Easter egg, symbol of life and resurrection," the prelate said.
In St Peter's Square AsiaNews spoke to many of the pilgrims. For all of them, being in Rome to see the Pope "was a dream come true". Mostly adult, many women, the groups of pilgrims also included many young people. Some of the younger members had already seen the Pope in Cologne last year; others came to Rome even though they are still preparing for their final exams.
The pilgrims' trip marks the end of the memorial year commemorating John Paul II that the archdiocese had inaugurated in May 2005 with a first group of 40 pilgrims.
With weepy eyes, and not only because of their long trip, the pilgrims attended a mass yesterday celebrated by Archbishop Kondrusiewicz in the crypt of St Peter's Basilica.
For Olga, it was a special moment. "I am still moved," she said," from praying near John Paul II's tomb. I could only dream about the emotions and feelings."
"This pilgrimage is a miracle that I never dreamt I could realise," said Igor. The same thing is true for Tatiana, for whom "being in Rome is a gift of the Lord".
Anna said the cost of the trip was worth it because, as she put it: "I was finally able to pray in the Vatican for the beatification of John Paul II, whom, sadly, I never met during his lifetime".
Tense relations between the Catholic Church and the Moscow Patriarchate always prevented the late Pope from making a much desired visit to Russia.
Teresa, who is of Polish origin, and her husband Victor are from Vladimir. "As Catholics, being in Rome is like touching the origins of Christianity. There are no words to describe our joy. We wanted so much to receive the Pope's blessing."
Our Lady of God Archdiocese has a congregation of about 200,000 people scattered in a territory of almost 1.5 square kilometres (900,000 square miles).
"For a small flock this pilgrimage is first of all an experience of union between the faithful of the diocese's different areas and their bishop," Archbishop Kondrusiewicz explained. "But it is also a chance to truly feel as one with the universal Church. I am certain that it will fortify their faith and the prayer with the Pope shall raise their hopes".
The prelate said he was "amazed" by the large number of pilgrims. "In Russia memories of John Paul II are still very strong. People are quite aware, as Benedict XVI himself said, that we must go on, following his teachings."
In yesterday's mass, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz mentioned the key role John Paul II played in the resurrection of the Catholic Church in Russia. It was he in fact who re-established the Catholic hierarchy by setting up the Apostolic Administration of Moscow and Novosibirsk. (MA)