St Petersburg Catholics want to relaunch large charity centre
by Vladimir Rozanskij

The city's historic building would become the local headquarters of Caritas. An initiative of auxiliary monsignor Nikolai Dubinin. The building was originally used as a shelter for homeless Catholics; confiscated during the Soviet era, it retained its charitable purpose. It would help the many assistance centres opened by Catholics in European Russia, often under legal and logistical conditions that are still rather precarious.



St Petersburg (AsiaNews) - The Catholics of the "capital of the north" intend to reactivate a large charitable centre on Vasilevsky Ostrov Island, in the centre of the city, reports  T Kommersant Sankt-Peterburg. The initiative of the diocese of Central Russia, which has its seat in Moscow, is led by auxiliary bishop Nikolai Dubinin, the first Catholic bishop of Russian nationality, to whom the Petersburg pastoral area is entrusted.

The Catholics submitted a request to the city council for the free return of a 19th century building on the 14th line of the Vasilevsky. At the moment, the complex is occupied by two Soviet-heritage welfare facilities dealing with addiction rehabilitation and family support: they would like to turn it into the local Caritas centre with various purposes and wide-ranging projects.

As the young Franciscan bishop explained, "after the restitution, we will be able to allocate the premises according to the statutes of Caritas, with charitable and social purposes, taking into account the historical specificities of the structure, which has been the seat of Catholic charity for over a century". Dubinin added that "attention will be paid to the current needs and conditions of the citizens of St Petersburg, Catholics and non-Catholics alike".

The clergyman recalled that the building was originally used as a shelter for homeless people of the Catholic denomination. In 1857, a women's hostel for orphans was also installed there, and in 1859, the managers had approved the status of a 'Home for the Poor of the Catholic Confession'. The centre was administered by a special committee, animated by the parishioners of St Catherine's Church, the architectural jewel of the Dominicans on Nevsky Prospect, the main street of the then capital of the Russian Empire. "This was the first official charitable centre of Russian Catholics," the auxiliary bishop points out.

The restitution request only became possible now, thanks to the expansion of the regulations on historic church buildings, which were amended in 2021. The new wording favours precisely the restitution of properties intended to provide material and spiritual assistance to the population, such as homes for orphans and soup kitchens, which were also widespread in the Orthodox churches of St Petersburg, where people from all over Russia came in search of work and help.

The first request from Catholics was submitted in March this year, but the documentation was deemed insufficient. After a more thorough search, the application was successfully reopened on 26 August, and a positive decision by the municipal office in charge is hoped, which has informed them in advance that the building is free of legal or financial constraints.

The large building is on three floors and covers an area of 350 square metres not used for residential purposes. A restaurant and several offices are currently located there, and some flats could be vacated. However, there would not be an immediate evacuation of the premises by those who currently occupy them, but a gradual relocation (within six years) with suitable accommodation for them, without damage to individuals or legal entities. Dubinin himself reassures about the arrangements in this regard: "The current occupants will be offered more suitable and comfortable alternatives, this is a historic building that still needs consolidation and renovation".

The north-western deanery of the diocese, under the care of Msgr. Dubinin, has about 30 parishes, out of a total of 67 including the central Moscow area, plus about 20 in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the north-eastern Catholic deanery. The new Caritas of St Petersburg would help the many assistance centres opened by Catholics in European Russia, often under still rather precarious legal and logistical conditions.