Hundreds of Orthodox believers joined hands in cities across
Russia Sunday in a "day of protest and prayer" against the
"aggressive and expansionist" Roman Catholic Church.
Experts say the Kremlin, at least, may be listening. Within the
past month, Russian security services have inexplicably deported two
Catholic priests, one a bishop who had been rebuilding their church
in Russia after the long communist winter.
"Our goal is to protect Russian statehood and our church against
Catholic expansionism," says Ivan Frolov, press secretary of the
Union of Orthodox Citizens, a lay organization closely linked to the
Orthodox Church, and one of the organizers of Sunday's
The protests were backed by the small, centrist Peoples' Party,
whose leader in the Duma, Gennady Raikov, lashed out publicly last
week at the Vatican, saying: "The Russian state must show that it is
not only able to defend the physical borders of the country, but
also its spiritual values."
Last week Bishop Jerzy Mazur, a Polish citizen who heads the
world's largest Catholic diocese in the sprawling Siberian territory
of Irkutsk, was stopped at Moscow airport by border guards and saw
his multiple-entry visa cancelled without explanation. Earlier, an
Italian priest who had worked in Russia for a decade, Father Stefano
Caprio, was barred from the country. A Catholic monk, Damian
Stepien, alleges that Moscow police defaced his passport and tossed
it in a waste bin after he told them he was a Catholic during a
street check of documents last week.
"This pattern of events suggests the Russian government may be
helping the Orthodox Church in its desire to eliminate competition
on Russian territory," says Kamaludin Gadjiev, an expert on religion
with the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in
The Russian government has offered no explanation of its role in
the rising tensions. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko,
commenting on the expulsion of Bishop Mazur, told journalists only
that "competent organs" had acted in accordance with Russian law.
"The basis for the relevant decision is serious complaints about the
activities of the Vatican's senior representative," in Russia.
According to its post-Soviet Constitution, Russia is a secular
state. But for over 1,000 years, the Orthodox Church has been
closely identified with Russian statehood. In the 17th century,
Peter the Great abolished the office of the church's independent
patriarch, or spiritual head, and replaced him with the tsar. Soviet
leaders revived the post of patriarch, but reduced the church to a
wing of the state bureaucracy. …