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Pope Francis encourages Catholics in Russia to witness to the Gospel

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow. / Sergey Ilyin-Mikhalski via Wikimedia (public domain).

Vatican City, Oct 11, 2021 / 11:23 am (CNA).

As the Soviet Union was disintegrating 30 years ago, St. John Paul II appointed apostolic administrators for the pastoral care of Latin-rite Catholics in Moscow and Siberia.

Pope Francis has marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of these Apostolic Administrations with a message encouraging Latin-rite Catholics in Russia to witness to the Gospel.

“My wish is that this commemoration will stimulate the entire Catholic community in the Russian Federation to be an evangelical seed which, with joy and humility, offers a clear vision of the Kingdom of God,” the pope wrote in the message published Oct. 10.

“I wish you to be a community of men and women, children and adults, young people and the elderly, priests and lay people, consecrated persons, and people in search of a vocation, striving for communion with all, in order to bear witness with simplicity and generosity, in family life and in every area of daily life, to the gift of grace received. This is so pleasing to God and contributes to the common good of the whole of society.”

Three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Catholics constitute a very small religious minority in Russia. The majority of the population is affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pope Francis asked Catholics in Russia to share in solidarity and take steps toward unity with Eastern Orthodox Christians.

“In the context of the Eastern Christian tradition in which you live, it is important to continue walking together with all your Christian brothers and sisters, without getting tired of asking the Lord’s help to deepen mutual knowledge and advance, step by step, on the path of unity,” the pope said.

“By praying for all and by serving those with whom we share the same humanity, which Jesus has united to himself in an inseparable way, we will rediscover ourselves as brothers and sisters in a common pilgrimage towards the goal of communion, which God indicates to us in every Eucharistic celebration.”

The pope’s message, signed Sept. 16, was released Oct. 10, the Sunday following Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s visit to the Vatican.

The Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Volokolamsk participated in an interreligious gathering Oct. 4 at the Vatican to issue a joint appeal calling for “net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.”

Hilarion, who serves as the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, said in an interview after his private audience with the pope on Oct. 6 that he thinks that another meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will take place, but that a potential papal trip to Russia would be “impossible at the moment.”

The Russian metropolitan told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that although Christians in Russia no longer face the impediments to preaching that existed in the USSR for 70 years, many baptized Christians in Russia today still do not really know the Gospel.

“In the university I was telling you about, there were probably 90% baptized, but only one out of four who had read the Gospel. They are not pagans, they consider themselves Orthodox Christians, but if they have not read the Gospel it means that it is a nominal rather than a real Orthodoxy,” Hilarion said.

“I think this is the main task, for everyone: to make people see Christ.”