Monday, October 29, 2007

Everything's New in Moscow

On Saturday, before a cathedral packed with Italians and Russians, Catholics and Orthodox alike, the Italian-born cleric Paolo Pezzi was ordained archbishop of "Mother of God" of Moscow, as the Latin-rite community in the Russian capital is known. 

A member of the priestly arm of Comunione e Liberazione -- Benedict XVI's favorite "new movement" -- the 47 year-old archbishop served until his September elevation as a seminary rector in St Petersburg. He succeeds Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who was returned to the top hierarchical post in his home country of Belarus. The departing Moscow prelate -- who's spoken in interviews of his regret at not being able to forge better coexistence with the dominant and influential Russian Orthodox church -- served as principal consecrator at the three-hour long liturgy.

Reflecting the Roman consensus that Pezzi's appointment would offer yet another sign of Vatican goodwill to the Russian Orthodox, a high-ranking representative of the Moscow Patriarchate attended the liturgy and offered a message from Patriarch Alexei II which expressed hopes for improved relations between the two churches and an "early resolution" of the issues that divide them.

The patriarchate's claims of Catholic "proselytism" on its canonical territory have caused prominent diplomatic and ecumenical tensions in recent years, and the reigning pontiff has made no secret of the high priority he places on better ties with Moscow. As Alexei and his lieutenants have responded in kind, the possibility of a meeting between Pope and Patriarch has advanced at a substantial clip over the course of Benedict's pontificate, with some estimates expecting it within two years.

To reflect his newly-intensified status with the land where he's served much of his priesthood, a senior Catholic official announced that Pezzi's change of title wouldn't be his only new moniker:
Father Igor Kovalevski, secretary-general of Russia's bishops' conference, told Archbishop Pezzi that he would no longer be known by his Italian name, "Paolo," but by its Russian equivalent, "Pavel."...

During the ordination Mass, celebrated in Russian, Latin and Italian, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz highlighted the difficult responsibility of a bishop: "To teach how to love God -- Christ calls the bishop to be his apostle and continues through him his mission. It is God who guides his people through the bishop."

Referring to the passage of the Gospel of John that recounts Peter's triple confession, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz affirmed that the role of the bishop is to serve every person until the end.

"A bishop is like a guardian angel," he affirmed, making reference to the role that his successor will now fulfill. "On the one hand, the Church in Russia has existed for more than a century, but on the other hand, it is still very young. It is for that reason that Archbishop Pezzi will now be a type of guardian angel, to him is commended the heart of the Catholic Church in Russia.

"With love, tell Jesus, 'Yes, Lord, I love you,' and he will make you 'strong with his Holy Spirit.'"...

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, apostolic nuncio in Russia, addressed the cathedral full of priests, men and women religious, diplomats and faithful, including many Italians. He said that Archbishop Pezzi, like Archbishop Kondrusiewicz had been for 16 years, needs to be an prelate "of the heart."

The nuncio recalled that the new prelate knows Russia very well, saying he is anything but a stranger in that lands. He affirmed that Benedict XVI would not have made the appointment without the certainty of the young archbishop's love for the Russian people. "Together, we will build the Kingdom of God," Archbishop Mennini affirmed.

After being ordained, Archbishop Pezzi explained that in his life from the beginning, he sensed a call to listen to God and serve him. He particularly thanked the representatives present from various Christian confessions: "I see signs of love from the Orthodox Church."
A leading patriarchate-watcher noted that he could see the love, too -- and that the appointment was being welcomed in Orthodox circles as a "concession" to Alexei & Co.
“By this transfer, Vatican actually makes Russian Orthodox Church understand that it is high time to improve the relations,” said Alexander Dugin, who is the church analyst. “In substance, the Pope made concession, as Russian Orthodox Church had been long seeking Kondrusiewics’ replacement from Vatican.”

According to Dugin, the Moscow Patriarchy associated Kondrusiewics with the time of Joan Paul II, when the relations of two churches had been particularly tense. The target that was set to Pezzi is rather complicated, the analyst went on, he is expected to prove “that the Catholic Church can be a friend.” “I think the historical meeting of Patriarch and Pope will eventually take place,” Dugin forecasted.
In an extended interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Pezzi remarked that his community formation had taught him to "see the Christian message... as enthusiasm in the Glory of Christ."

"[I]f all of us -- both Catholics and Orthodox -- practice 'mission'" along these lines, he said, "we can develop good understanding and pursue unity."

And the result, according to the prelate: "there will be no place left for conflicts!"

Vasily Shaposhnikov/Kommersant