10/01/2018, 08.57
RUSSIA
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The struggle of Catholics for the church of St. Alexander in Kirov

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The church, seized by the Bolsheviks in 1933, was supposed to be returned following the end of communism in the 1990s, but nothing happened. Dmitry Medvedev promised to restore the church by 2016. But the local administration has made it the seat of the Kirov Philharmonic. The faithful were allowed to celebrate Mass 25 times in a year, paying a rent of 1000 euros.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – On October 18 next in Kirov a city of northeastern European Russia the court of arbitration will meet in to rule decisively on the restitution of the Catholic church of St. Alexander. Parish priest Frigori Zvolinski (photo 2), together with the parishioners, decided to appeal to all those who can support the long wait of the local community with prayer.

Built by the Poles confined in this impervious area, after one of the many tsarist repressions of the mid-1800s, the church was closed to worship by the Bolsheviks in 1933, who set up a hostel for students of the local veterinary institute.

In the 1990s, after the end of communism, even before the Catholic community was rebuilt, the local authorities placed a large German organ in it, making the building a branch of the Kirov Philharmonic. For this reason the church was not returned to the Catholics, but remained state-owned. The faithful were allowed to celebrate Mass 25 times a year, between concerts, paying an annual rent of about 1000 euros.

In 2010 the then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree allowing religious organizations to obtain the restitution of historical properties, which belonged to them before the revolution. The following year, the parish priest Fr. Grigori presented an official request for the restitution of the church of St. Alexander to the competent office of the Kirov region, but his application was rejected on the grounds it was incomplete. The authorities motivated this response based on the fact that during the 1990s new premises had been added, which could not be used without the whole building.

In 2014 the then governor of the Kirov province, Nikita Belikh, met in Moscow with the Catholic Archbishop Msgr. Paolo Pezzi, and proposed to build a new church on the outskirts of Kirov. According to the agreements, the city would grant the local community a plot of land, construction materials and pay for the project, and as long as the new church was not built it would give free permission to celebrate in the historic church, at least for those 25 times a year already established. The parish was presented with 6 proposals for its re-location both in the city and in the surroundings, but they were all impractical, many even without roads to the proposed land. The faithful therefore rejected all the hypotheses presented.

The parishioners located a plot on the outskirts of Kirov, but they were not given the necessary ground, following the opposition of the local Orthodox metropolitan, Mark of Vyatsky and Novoslobodsk, as the new church would have been too close to a chapel Russian Orthodox Church in the Novovyatsky district. Governor Belikh finally withdrew the proposal to have the new church built by the Catholics, having refused all the proposals of the local authorities.

According to Medvedev's decree, the Philharmonic church should have been returned to the Catholics within 6 years, but at the end of the period in 2017 this had not happened. The parish priest has tried to get the restitution by other routes, even by offering economic compensation, but without success: the municipality has decided that the city needs an organ concert hall more. Fr. Grigori continued the battle with parishioners with demonstrative actions, such as a month of fasting in April this year, and by judicial means, turning to the Arbitration Court in June with a case against the regional administration.

The parish attorney, Jan Cebotarev, after the presentation of the case was contacted by local representatives of the Orthodox Church, to dissuade him from defending the Polish Catholics "against whom our grandparents have fought for centuries". The same lawyer, who is not a Catholic faithful, told MBX Media reporters: "I tried to explain to the orthodox batjushki [priests] that we are now in the 21st century, and today it is ridiculous to interpret the right according to religious preferences, but they did not want to listen to me ".

Fr. Grigori has reported, moreover, that some Orthodox priests support the requests of Catholics, and the negative reactions are to be attributed to a minority of them. As an interested party, the same Philharmonic is also part in the case, which claims exclusivity over the building because of the presence of the organ. The faithful hope that on 18th October "finally good sense will win" in court.

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