02/04/2021, 09.29
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Deacon Antonio Santi, first director of Caritas Russia, has died

by Stefano Caprio

He dedicated his life to the rebirth of the Church in Russia. He has lived in the country for 30 years. As a young man, after an encounter with the Student Youth movement, he entered Jacques Loew's Workers' Mission. Ecumenical friendship with the Orthodox priest, Fr. Aleksandr Men. He believed that contemporary mission must "return to the Lord’s washing of the apostle’s feet”.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Deacon Antonio Santi, a member of the Workers' Mission of Saints Peter and Paul (MOPP) who dedicated his life to the rebirth of the Church in Russia, returned to the Father’s house yesterday.

He had remained in Russia for the past 30 years. He was the first director of Caritas Russia, which was inspired by the apostolic nuncio Msgr. Colasuonno in 1990. The leadership was entrusted to Santi the following year and he went on to direct it for almost 20 years. Even after his service to Caritas, Antonio remained in Russia to participate in the life of the local Church, bringing the charisma of his missionary community of committed priests and deacons to the heart of the social fabric.

MOPP was founded in 1965 by the Dominican father Jacques Loew, who died in 1999, a French theologian who in the years of the Second Vatican Council was among the first to propose the experiment of "worker-priests", presbyters and deacons involved in the world of work alongside the workers and the needy.

In those years a young Antonio Santi in those was exploring the beginnings of Fr Luigi Giussani's Student Youth Movement. Antonio asked Giussani where he could consecrate himself in a vocational form that was not enclosed within the walls of monasteries or parishes. The founder of Communion and Liberation had not yet blessed the opening of specific vocations of the movement, such as the Memores Domini or priestly fraternities that would later form, so he suggested Santi apply to the intuitions of two great friends: The St John community of the theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, or the mission of Father Jacques Loew, which Antonio ultimately decided to join.

Jacques Loew was one of the few Catholic missionaries who, since the end of the 1960s, tried to find glimpses in the impenetrable Soviet Union, as did the Little Sisters of Charles de Foucauld. These discreet attempts bore abundant fruit, especially thanks to his friendship with one of the great "spiritual fathers" of dissent, the Orthodox priest Aleksandr Men, capable of opening channels for ecumenical dialogue even under the all-powerful Communist Brezhnevian dictatorship.

When Antonio Santi managed to arrive in Moscow, thanks to the support of the Italian embassy, ​​he found many friends and many collaborators for his missionary works. He took on the responsibility of Caritas when caravans of humanitarian aid poured into Russia, to make up for the serious shortcomings due to the failure of Gorbachev's policies. The humanitarian wagons were frowned upon by the local Orthodox, who suspected attempts at proselytism on the part of Catholics, and Santi had to govern this flow with great courage, often with prophetic intuition which were nonetheless accompanied by unsuccessful attempts.

All the other Catholic structures were organized around Caritas. Parishes also depended heavily on the generosity of foreign benefactors. Antonio stood out for his direct and industrious character, and those who knew him saw the great passion with which he engaged in new initiatives and even rather daring adventures, always seeking the good of the Church and desiring the effective encounter between the various communities and religious denominations.

Antonio believed the ecclesial community is like a wood, where each tree has its root and each must take root autonomously in God and grow with Him, that each community is always in constant evolution, and cannot remain still, to avoid monotony.

In 2008 - the year of the centenary of Jacques Loew's birth - he wrote MOPP's "Blue Letter", the Mission's annual editorial, despite being the only representative of the fraternity in Russia. Aware of the "crucial moment" in the life of the Church and of society, Santi proposed a return to the washing of the feet by the Lord to the apostles, "when the Master arrives at the end of his mission and when he invites us to go with him to the end of ours”, praising God for “the grace of proclaiming the Gospel together in weakness and dispersion”. Antonio was not an easy man, but he knew that "the struggle is never ending, and our strength is in the One who has already won, Jesus Christ", a strength that this deacon and friend knew how to transmit to all those he encountered.

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