04/19/2022, 09.33
RUSSIA
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Catholic missionary expelled from Moscow

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Fr. Fernando Vera will have to return to his native Mexico. With the invasion of Ukraine it is difficult to avoid the crime of "defamation of the authorities and the army". Religious driven out to ward off "foreign influences". 

Moscow (AsiaNews) - As the parishioners themselves announced on social channels, on Holy Saturday  "the Russian authorities gave Catholics an Easter gift, orderingthe expulsion within 24 hours of the priest of the Moscow parish of Saints Peter and Paul, Father Fernando Vera, without even allowing him to celebrate the Vigil and Easter Day liturgies".

The Mexican Opus Dei parish priest, who has been serving in Russia for seven years, had his residence permit withdrawn without any explanation, giving him only one day to return to his country, from which he will probably not be allowed to return to his mission in Russia.

As the faithful commented, "Fr. Fernando is in the habit of calling things by their name, but today this is not considered a civil virtue in our country. Even with all the necessary prudence, it is difficult today to avoid committing the offence of "defaming the authorities and the army" even if one only mentions the "war" going on in Ukraine. While this can cost Russian citizens heavy fines or even arrest and imprisonment, for a foreign missionary it means the loss of the right to remain in his post, without even the 48 hours' notice given to diplomats to be expelled.

The expulsion of missionaries is nothing new in Russia, and already in the early years of the Putin regime there had been several cases, indicating the Russians' desire to ward off "foreign influences". For years, Russian Catholics have been keeping a low profile, avoiding initiatives that could be accused of proselytism and professing absolute loyalty to the authorities and their instructions, but this is clearly not enough.

There are still many missionaries coming from various countries around the world, partly because local priests are still not enough to cover the approximately 300 Catholic parishes in Russia. Of the four bishops working in Russia, three are foreign citizens and one is a German with Russian citizenship. A bishop was already removed in 2002, when Bishop Erzy Mazur of Irkutsk in Siberia was forced to return to his native Poland.

Fr Fernando's departure is very painful for Moscow Catholics: he had only a few months before replaced Fr Igor Kovalevsky at the title of the historic Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which together with the French Church of St Louis of the French and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception constitutes the entire architectural and cultic heritage of the Roman Catholic Church in the Russian capital.

Fr Igor had left office in a dispute with Archbishop Paolo Pezzi and the Curia, of which he had been one of the first collaborators since the 1990s, over the poor management of the restitution of parish buildings, and his successor was trying to rebuild harmony between the faithful and the pastors.

Only a week before Fr Vera's expulsion, Mons. Pezzi had signed a decree of "canonical punishment of the priest Igor Kovalevsky for failure to fulfil his duties" with a series of accusations that had further exacerbated the unease within the Catholic community. Fr Igor spontaneously left Russia months ago, even interrupting his priestly service, and has now been canonically suspended by the bishop for disobedience and for 'leading the faithful into temptation'.

Archbishop Pezzi himself presided over the Holy Week and Easter services invoking "the Holy Cross, our only hope". He said that the world is on fire, but under its flames rises the Cross, and nothing can destroy it: "It is our way from earth to heaven". Catholics "listen to the cries of pain of those who die, and we would like to help them, to be guardian angels and consolers, but we can only act together with Christ Crucified", the bishop concluded. "Not only here or there, but on all fronts, wherever there is suffering, embracing the Cross". 

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