05/06/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA

Catholic and Ortodox: a new alliance facing Secularism. Like back in the days of the URSS

by Marta Allevato
We speak to the Director of the Library of the Spirit in Moscow, an example of dialogue and encounter between the two churches: the climate has improved not only at the diplomatic level, but also in the field. But now we need a new message of common witness.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - "Secularism, like back in the days of the Soviet Union", requires a new alliance with Orthodox Christians and to address common challenges. The signs that this collaboration is strengthening "can be seen at the diplomatic level, but also in the field”, says Jean François Thiry, 44, one of the protagonists of the renewed climate of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Catholic Church. Dutch, but by now adopted by Russia, Thiry speaks to AsiaNews about the fruits of an adventure that began almost 20 years ago in a small apartment on the outskirts of the Russian capital, where the publishing house 'Library of the Spirit'-of which he is director - began to first print religious books, and then transferred to down town Moscow, to the 'Pokrovkskye Vorota' cultural centre, becoming a model for fruitful encounter between faith and society even for the Moscow Patriarchate.

"Since 1993 we strive to create opportunities to bring Catholics and Orthodox together - Thiry says - but in recent years the leaders desire to work together has become clearer, bringing better results”. What has clearly changed, continues Thiry, is how the orthodox receive the messages from the Vatican. "Just look at how what Benedict XVI says is accepted today with a great affection and a positive attitude from the outset." Something that was unthinkable with John Paul II, who "was neither read nor understood in Russia, perhaps because of our own limits as Catholics, because of prejudice or maybe the timing wasn’t right".

The absence of cultural and religious prejudice and barriers is the most characteristic feature of the Library of the Spirit, which matured "with those who understood the importance of creating through culture, a bridge between Catholics and Orthodox" groups and individuals in Russia and abroad, foundations such as 'Aid to the Church in Need', 'Christian Russia', 'Lights on the east'. The publications are about 12 per year and the distribution is about 300 thousand books. The same center 'Pokrovkye Vorota' (Protection of the Virgin) - which employs 21 people of which only four Catholics and the rest orthodox - is "a neutral stage, where an Orthodox, a Catholic, just as an atheist or "no" global”, can be at ease. At a rate of 12 thousand visitors for 250 meetings each year including debates, concerts and a film club, the opportunities for discussion and ecumenical dialogue are numerous: "It is not unique to the Church or religion in the strict sense, but we discuss universal themes, ranging from the meaning of life to the desire for truth, "says Thiry. Among the regular appointments of last winter, for example, the course of an Orthodox priest on family psychology generated a great following, with an average of 60 participants per evening.

But the centre’s work of creating a platform for dialogue between the two churches is not limited within the walls of 'Pakrovky Vorota' "Invited by the Patriarchate of Moscow, we have participated in conferences on work, society, secularism and education, we travel and export an amount of activities through the presentation of books and exhibitions by Voronesh, Novosibirsk until Estan," he adds.

The cultural and educational sector is "the most fruitful area of collaboration, but at the same time most sensitive," said the director of the canter of worship, the board of  which includes the archbishop of the Mother of God in Moscow, Mgr. Paolo Pezzi and the Metropolitan of Minsk, Filaret. Thiry says that when dealing with children we must move more cautiously: "People are still reflecting on this area and very often the Patriarchate calls for its supervision and claims a privileged pace, motivated by the fact that Russia is an Orthodox country" . Thus, "despite the rich tradition of education, the Catholic Church must think twice before carrying out activities with children, such as orphanages, of which there are now about four in Russia."

Despite the persistence of mistrust in this area, we can say however that at least the vexed question of the alleged Catholic proselytism "has been exceeded." The joint Catholic-Orthodox working group of which Thiry is part was useful in this area. Established in 2004 by the then Patriarch Alexy II and Card. Walter Kasper, is composed of six people who meet twice a year to discuss problems and solutions in 'ecumenical cooperation'. On the table there is the law on the restitution of church property, as well as cooperation in education and family support. Thiry recalled that in Soviet times it was almost obligatory work: "There was a common enemy that was the power and this had united the two Churches. Then when freedom came, we were forced to manage it, thinking about it in a fraternal manner, but everyone retreated to their own side. " Now in front of secularism and materialism, which has become endemic in Russia, "the Church has a new and different message to announce and we must do it together, where possible, this is the goal today. On the one hand, therefore, there is a requirement desired by external conditions, but the other we can not forget the commandment of the Lord who told us to be united. "
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