Voices from Russia

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Sputnik International Presents… Christmas Spirit in Every Corner of the World

00 Christmas Spirit 01. Seoul KOREA. 25.12.14

Volunteers clad in Santa Claus costumes throw their hats in the air as they gather to deliver gifts to the poor in downtown Seoul (Seoul National Capital Area) ROK.


00 Christmas Spirit 02. Kaliningrad RUSSIA. 25.12.14

Christmas at St Adalbert of Prague Roman Catholic parish in Kaliningrad (Kaliningrad Oblast. Northwestern Federal District) RF.


00 Christmas Spirit 03. Sydney AUSTRALIA. 25.12.14

British travellers Liam Wadeson (left), Jemma Wild and Ashley Colotta, (right), frolic in the waves as they celebrate Christmas Day at Bondi Beach in Sydney (Sydney Region. New South Wales) AUSTRALIA.


00 Christmas Spirit 04. Nairobi KENYA. 25.12.14

The choir at Shrine of Mary Help of Christian Church sings during Christmas Mass in Nairobi (Nairobi County. Nairobi Metro Area) KENYA.


00 Christmas Spirit 05. Beijing CHINA. 25.12.14

A Chinese man prays during Christmas Eve mass of at the South Cathedral official Catholic church in Beijing (Beijing Municipality) PRC.


00 Christmas Spirit 06. Guiyang CHINA. 25.12.14

Members of a local parachute club wearing Santa Claus costumes fly past residential buildings dropping presents to pedestrians during a promotional event celebrating Christmas in Guiyang (Guizhou Province) PRC.


00 Christmas Spirit 07. Islamabad PAKISTAN. 25.12.14

A Pakistani Christian family gathers around a fire to warm themselves from the evening cold in an alley of a Christian neighbourhood decorated with festive lights for Christmas in Islamabad (Islamabad Capital Area) PAKISTAN.


00 Christmas Spirit 08. Chilpancingo MEXICO. 25.12.14

Men look at a Christmas tree, with pictures of the 43 missing trainee teachers, in the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training Raul Isidro Burgos College in Ayotzinapa, on the outskirts of Chilpancingo de los Bravo (Guerrero) MEXICO.


00 Christmas Spirit 09. Bethlehem PALESTINE. 25.12.14

On Christmas Eve, a Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus holds balloons at Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem (Bethlehem Governorate) PALESTINE.


00 Christmas Spirit 10. Ahmadabad INDIA. 25.12.14

A man exits an illuminated Church on Christmas Eve in Ahmedabad (Ahmedabad District. Gujarat State) INDIA.


00 Christmas Spirit 11. Moscow RUSSIA. 25.12.14

Archbishop Paolo Pezzi (centre) during Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow (Federal City of Moscow. Central Federal District) RF.


00 Christmas Spirit 12. Mumbai INDIA. 25.12.14

Indian girls pose for photos near decorative statues of Santa Claus outside a church on Christmas in Mumbai (Mumbai City District. Maharashtra State) INDIA.


00 Christmas Spirit 13. Laghman Province AFGHANISTAN. 25.12.14

A US Army soldier from the 3 Cavalry Regiment dressed as Santa Claus greets fellow soldiers eating Christmas lunch at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Laghman Province of Afghanistan.


00 Christmas Spirit 14. St Peter Basilica VATICAN CITY. 25.12.14

Pope Francisco Bergoglio kissed the statue of baby Jesus as he arrived to lead Christmas Midnight Mass at St Peter Basilica in Vatican City. He prayed for peace in the Ukraine and decried the “brutal persecution” of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria in his traditional Christmas address, known as the Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world).


Christmas is one of the main Christian holidays. It’s an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus, observed as a religious and cultural tradition among billions of people across the world. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world’s nations, and a great number of non-Christian people celebrate it. According to the Gregorian calendar, the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestant churches celebrate Christmas on 25 December. Roman Emperor Theodosius II made the decision to celebrate Christmas on 25 December at the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431.

Advent precedes Christmas, which starts four weeks before Christmas. This period is supposed to prepare the faithful the birth of Jesus. The festive customs associated in various countries with Christmas mix pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar, Christmas music and carolling, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, such as Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and garlands.

Christmas is associated with Santa Claus, also known as also known as St Nicholas and Father Christmas, a cultural figure with legendary, folkloric, and historic origins. In many Western cultures, folklore has it that Santa Claus brings presents to the homes of good children the night before Christmas. According to early Roman Christian traditions, three special liturgies are served on Christmas… a midnight Mass, a Mass at dawn, and a Mass during the day. In the Roman Catholic Church, Christmas celebrations last for eight days, from 25 December to 1 January, a period known as the Octave.

The North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) tracks Santa Claus when he leaves his official residence in the North Pole and flies around the world in his sleigh. NORAD has tracked Santa’s journey for more than 50 years. As gift-giving and many other Christmas customs involve heightened economic activity, the holiday became a key sales period for retailers and businesses all around the world. Groups and schools often perform Nativity plays and Christmas pageants during the holiday period. They depict the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. The tradition dates from the 10th-century Roman Empire.

25 December 2014

Sputnik International



Sunday, 31 March 2013

Russian Roman Catholics Celebrated Easter

00 RC Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Moscow. communion. 16.11.12


Click here for an image gallery on Catholic Easter in Russia

On Sunday, Catholics all over the world celebrated Easter. In Moscow, Archbishop Monseigneur Paolo Pezzi FSCB, Chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, led the Easter vigil mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin Mary, attended by hundreds of Catholic believers from Moscow and other Russian cities. A silent prayer in the dark of the night preceded the mass, and, then, a special candle, the Great Paschal Candle, was lit from an Easter fire kindled in the churchyard. The burning candle symbolised Christ’s message dispelling the darkness.

Archbishop Paolo Pezzi said in his Easter sermon, “The resurrection of Christ is a new beginning, a new world, a new dimension in life. This new life changes our entire modern world. Man’s faith in himself stems from his faith in God. Without faith in God, man loses himself. Whenever people or nations forgot about God, they were unable to build a better life. Deep wretchedness always afflicted them. The Holy Light of Christ’s Resurrection illuminated the creation of the world and man, along with the mission, aspirations and entire existence of mankind”.

Fr Kirill Gorbunov told VOR, “The Catholic Easter mass is particularly solemn because Easter is the central event of the Church Year. Firstly, there’s the Liturgy of Light… the kindling of new light as a symbol of Resurrection, a symbol of Christ’s light, which shone out of the darkness of hopelessness, sin, and death, which gave us hope for salvation. Secondly, there is the recollection of the entire story of Salvation… the creation of the world, the fall from grace, the covenant between God and Man, the prophesies of the Saviour, and, finally, the story of the Resurrection of Christ. Thirdly, there’s the Baptismal Liturgy; the Catholic Church believes that the Easter Vigil is the right time for converts to undergo baptism”.

The tradition to baptise adults during the Catholic Easter Vigil liturgy dates back to ancient times. Catholic believers think that undergoing baptism during the Easter vigil is a special blessing. This time, there were 14 newly-baptised Christians at the Moscow-based Cathedral of Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin Mary. One was Inna, who said, “I’ve been preparing for this for two long years, and, now, I’m happy. Now, I feel that my soul has light. It’s so beautiful at the cathedral today. Throughout the entire mass, I felt that this holy feast was dedicated to us, who became closer to God today. I’m lost for words to express what I feel”.

Orthodox Christians also visit Catholic churches on Easter… however, they don’t take part in the mass; they’re there to congratulate their fellow Christians. This time, Fr Dmitri Sizonenko, from the MP DECR, represented the patriarchate. He said, “This is a good tradition, for Orthodox and Catholic Christians to congratulate each other on major holy feasts. Although we have differences in ritual, the meaning of Easter is the same”. For Catholics, Easter is the most jubilant holiday. Apart from traditional Russian Easter eggs and kulich (Easter bread), Catholic believers presented each other with chocolate Easter bunnies, which symbolise fertility.

31 March 2013

Milena Faustova

Voice of Russia World Service


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Russian Catholics Greet New Pope with Open Arms

fireworks christmas moscow immaculate conception


Russia’s small Catholic community greeted the election of Pope Francisco Bergoglio with elation and hopes that the new pontiff will continue to improve ties with the country’s Orthodox majority despite a rocky history and lingering disagreements. Congratulations to the new pope, formerly the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, 76-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio, poured in from ordinary Catholics as well as senior political and religious leaders in Russia, which has an estimated 700,000 Catholics, or about 0.5 percent of the population. President Vladimir Putin said that he hoped that ties between the Vatican and Russia would continue to develop “on the basis of the Christian values that unite us”, according to a statement posted on the official Kremlin website.

Interfax reported that Fr Igor Kovelevsky, chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation, which oversees the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, said that the election of the first non-European pope in centuries was a sign that the church is global and open to all. Described as warm, humble, and conservative, Bergoglio appeared to fit the bill for Russian Catholics, many of whom harbour fond memories of the gregarious and worldly Pope John Paul II Wojtyła, who helped re-establish a Catholic presence in Russia in the waning days of the USSR.

Yegor Bredikhin, 18, a student and recent convert, standing in the falling snow outside Moscow‘s main cathedral Wednesday morning, said that the new pope should unite religious believers of all faiths, including Orthodox Christians. Yekaterina, 26, a graduate student and member of the Greek Catholic Church (sic), said on the day of the vote, “He should also be conservative. It’d be very strange and contradict the teachings of the church if the Catholic pope were for same-sex marriages“.

Catholics have a long and variegated history in Russia going back to at least the 12th century. Over the years, and even to this day, they’ve had to fend off suspicion and occasional hostility from nativists who see them as an unwelcome Western import. Inter-church relations have improved in the last decade under outgoing Pope Benedict XVI Ratzinger, and Catholics interviewed by the St Petersburg Times say that they feel at home in Russia. However, unresolved issues remain between the two churches, the most troublesome being property disputes in the Ukraine. That conflict was the latest sticking point preventing a meeting of the heads of both churches, something that’s never happened in their history.

Interfax reported that Patriarch Kirill said that the Orthodox Church shared Francisco’s concern for the poor and suffering, and that this creates new opportunities for cooperation between the two churches. Experts said that Russian Catholics had reason to be optimistic and pessimistic about the arrival of Pope Francisco, but warned that Russia would probably not be high on the new pontiff’s to-do list. The Vatican’s prestige and influence suffered in recent years with mounting revelations of child sex abuse by priests and allegations of corruption at the Vatican Bank, and there’s been widespread speculation that Benedict XVI’s historic resignation had links to the church’s woes. Kommersant FM editor-in-chief Konstantin von Eggert wrote that given these challenges, and the shift of Catholicism’s heartland from Europe to South America and Africa, Russia’s tiny fraction of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics would be far from Pope Francisco’s thoughts.

Roman Lunkin, a religion expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that unlike his predecessor, a long-time Vatican insider who met with Patriarch Kirill when Kirill was still a metropolitan, Francisco doesn’t have established ties to the Orthodox Church. Furthermore, Lunkin noted that it’s going to be difficult to explain to Francisco, an Argentinean Jesuit who’s said to have a passion for social work and a concern for the poor, how things are done in Russia, saying, “Why is it important to tiptoe around the Moscow Patriarchate’s sphere of influence? Why are Catholics constantly accused of proselytising? Why is it important to be quiet when the Orthodox Church and the government object to new Catholic churches?”

A Rocky Past

The Catholic Church in Russia, which includes Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholic churches subordinate to the pope, currently consists of four dioceses in Russia… the archdiocese is in Moscow… totalling 396 parishes nationwide. The three other dioceses are in Saratov, Novosibirsk, and Irkutsk. Catholicism has a long and turbulent history in Russia, punctuated by expulsions of Catholic missionaries and frustrated attempts to reunite the largest Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, which split in the Great Schism of 1054. Roman Catholic chapels first appeared in the ancient cities of Novgorod, Ladoga, and Smolensk between the 12th and 15th centuries, and Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1684, only have the government expel them five years later, and see their leader sent to a monastery.

The government became more tolerant to Catholics in the late 18th century under Tsaritsa Yekaterina Velikaya, who established rules for a Catholic parish in the imperial capital, St Petersburg. Shortly thereafter, the Jesuits returned, but the government expelled them again less than two decades later. The relationship hit rock bottom under the Bolsheviks, who in 1918 declared all church property to belong to the Soviet state, a move followed by arrests of Catholic clergy. In 1990, diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Holy See were established and the full re-establishment of the Catholic Church in Russia took off.

A Dominant Rival

Orthodox believers make up 74 percent of the Russian population, according to a December poll by the independent Levada Centre, and critics accused the Kremlin of cosying up to the Orthodox Church to wage an information campaign against dissenters and critics. Father Kirill, a spokesman for the Mother of God Catholic Archdiocese in Moscow said that whilst all religious groups face legal and property issues, “some confessions find it easier to resolve these issues than others”. In recent years, senior Orthodox clergymen have been spotted with expensive cars and pricey jewellery, enjoying scandalous luxuries that are anathema to Francisco, who reportedly rides the subway to work, cooks his own food, and flew to Rome with a single suitcase and without an entourage. Lunkin said, referring to the Orthodox Church’s head of external relations, “Metropolitan Hilarion and other senior clergy are used to diplomatic discussions between top officials, but for this pope, concrete missions and concrete social and evangelical projects are more important”.

There is some hope that values and religious sensibilities could trump differing styles. Francisco is said to be well-versed in Orthodox liturgical tradition, and an Orthodox bishop in South America told ITAR-TASS that he was “pro-Russian”, saying that Bergoglio was friendly with local Orthodox clergy in Argentina and sometimes attended Orthodox services. Because of the Catholic Church’s relatively small size and novelty in Russia… the archdiocese in Moscow was established in 2002, alarming some Orthodox leaders… it’s managed to remain isolated from some of the Roman Catholic Church’s problems, at least publicly. There weren’t any scandals involving alleged paedophilia by Catholic clergymen in Russia. The strongest whiff of sexual impropriety came in 2008, when a Russian man killed a Jesuit priest whom prosecutors said was making sexual advances.

However, its relative insignificance in the Catholic world also partly explains Russian Catholics’ exclusion from the Vatican’s hierarchy. There aren’t any Russian cardinals, and consequently, none of the 115 cardinals who chose Cardinal Bergoglio to be the 266th pontiff serves in Russia. Only one, Archbishop Audrys Juozas Bačkis of Vilnius, serves in the former USSR. Ivan Maksutov, a senior lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Religion at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU), said, “It’s too dangerous” to appoint a Russian cardinal, which would surely harm relations with the Orthodox Church. According to officials in both churches, relations warmed under Benedict XVI, who assumed the pontificate in 2005 and stepped down last month citing frailty, the first pope to retire in almost 600 years.

Moscow and the Holy See established full diplomatic relations in 2009, and perennial Orthodox complaints about Catholics’ “poaching” their flock petered out. The primary remaining irritant involves a dispute in the Ukraine between Orthodox and Greek Catholics (sic), who the Orthodox Church says wrongfully seized its property in the 1980s and 1990s. Soviet dictator Iosif Stalin ordered the seizure of Eastern Catholic Churches and gave the property to the Orthodox Church. After the collapse of the USSR, Eastern Catholics took back more than 500 of them, mostly in the Western Ukraine. Deacon Alexei Dikarev, an MP spokesman, said that the presence of Greek Catholic (sic) missionaries in traditionally-Orthodox parts of the Ukraine exacerbated the dispute.

No Easy Fix

Fr Kirill, the spokesman for the Moscow Catholic Archdiocese said that relations between the two churches would likely remain a source of tension for years to come, saying, “It’s a dialogue of love”, adding that it was natural for the two churches, while close in terms of tradition and practise, to continually calibrate their relationship. He denied that the Catholic Church ever aggressively proselytised in Russia, saying, “If by proselytism we mean scaring people or using unsavoury methods… payments, etc… then, this has never been the case”. Maksutov, the religion expert, said that relations between the two churches were currently “guarded”, observing, “They’re neither good nor bad. Because the Roman Catholic Church is less interested in the former USSR than it is in Africa and Latin America, there’s no special dialogue”.

The cardinals might have missed a chance to improve interfaith relations by failing to elect Hungarian bishop Péter Erdő as pope, who forged close ties with the Orthodox Church, who Vatican saw insiders as a leading candidate before Wednesday’s vote. Officially, the churches’ eventual goal is to unite after almost 1,000 years of separation. Dikarev said, “We’re on the path, but we’ve a long way to go”. One often-cited step on that path is a meeting of the heads of the two churches, which has never happened despite rumours in recent years that a summit was in the wings. On Thursday, Metropolitan Hilarion repeated the MP’s long-standing line on such a meeting… It’s possible, but not until the churches resolve “conflicts that arose abroad in the 1980s and 1990s”, referring to the Ukrainian property dispute. Fr Kirill downplayed the significance of a summit of the two leaders, saying, “It’s not a magical solution to our problems”, adding that spiritual unity was the main goal in bilateral ties.

Love from Russia

Bergoglio’s first appearance as Pope Francisco on the Vatican balcony at about 23.15 MSK on Wednesday earned gushing reviews from Russian-speaking Catholics on the Vkontakte social network, the largest in Russia. User Lilia Khugeyan, from the Western Ukraine, where much of the population is Catholic, wrote, “They say the strongest and most mysterious feeling is falling in love, but I’d beg to differ; I’m having ‘that feeling’ right now”. Others were more sober in their assessment. Another Western Ukrainian user, Dima Mis, replied, “Come on, girls, emotions are good, but I’m more interested in whether he’ll rise to the challenges of the times. I don’t know much about him, and his Wikipedia entry is skimpy”. Bergoglio was an unknown for many Catholics in Russia, including for Fr Daniel Ceratto, a fellow priest and Argentinean, director of the Church’s Regional Family Centre in St Petersburg. He said, “Unfortunately, I don’t know much about him. I’ve been here for 12 years”.

Although the church doesn’t keep accurate statistics, Fr Kirill speculated that the number of Catholics in Russia was probably shrinking due to emigration of Catholics with strong foreign roots. He denied that the trend was due to a “loss of faith” or signalled the church’s unsustainability. Catholics interviewed by the St Petersburg Times said that whilst they’re comfortable in Russia, many don’t always feel accepted. Bredikhin, the student, said he felt “fantastic” as a Catholic, but was concerned about how a coreligionist conscript would fare against endemic bullying in the Russian Army, saying, “They wouldn’t understand a Catholic there; he’d be an outcast. Some individuals understand that there’s freedom of religion, but the masses don’t”. Anna Belova, 28, who works in the cathedral’s catechismal library, said that her social circles didn’t include any Orthodox Christians but that she occasionally encounters resistance from particularly conservative Orthodox believers, saying, “Once I invited an Orthodox priest to see my grandmother. When he found out that I’m Catholic, he gave me a long lecture and tried to convert me”. Igor Gurkin, 39, a taxi driver and daily churchgoer, said that he hadn’t ever observed antagonism toward Catholics, but that could also be because, “It’s not written on my forehead that I’m a Catholic”.

15 March 2013

Jonathan Earle

St Petersburg Times


Russian Catholics Welcome Pope Francisco as New “Rudder of Faith”

00 RC Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Moscow. interior. 16.11.12


On Thursday, Catholic churches in Russia served thanksgiving liturgies marking the election of Pope Francisco Bergoglio. In Moscow, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin Mary, Metropolitan Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, FSCB, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mother of God in Moscow served liturgy. On Thursday night, the atmosphere in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was almost intimate. After the the end of a working day, there were only a few believers at the ceremony. The priests in snow-white vestments, which they wear on solemn occasions, called on believers to pray for Pope Francisco. Catholics are only beginning to get accustomed to this new name. For most of them, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is still a stranger. Nevertheless, many believers already took him to their hearts as their pope; they believe he’s the one the Roman Catholic Church needs today. Artyom, one of the churchgoers, said, “I’m sure that my church will become better under him. I never heard of him before, but I’ve read that he’s modest and humble of heart, a priest who’s devoted to his mission with a reasonable degree of conservatism. I think that he’s an example for our whole church, and I hope that the new Pope will be a good ‘rudder’ leading our ship directly to God without deviating from the course”.

Today, the entire Catholic world is watching every step and every word of the new Pope. Fr Peter, a Catholic priest from Slovakia, said, “I heard of him before. I know that he’s very simple, open to people, and lives simply, even to the point of commonness. However, he’s very intelligent and educated. My first impression was very good. For example, right after his election, when he blessed the believers who gathered in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, they offered him a special car to go back to the hotel, but he refused; he said that he’d return to Rome together with the other cardinals. He also checked out from the hotel, paid for his room, and carried his luggage without allowing anyone to help him. These are very important things that prove that he’d be a good pontiff”.

Fr Kirill Gorbunov, the head of the press service of the RC Archdiocese of Mother of God in Moscow said, “The relations between the MP and Catholics will become warmer. The process of convergence of our churches is going on independently from any specific personalities. The relations between Orthodox and Catholics aren’t a question of virtues and shortcomings of its members, whatever the roles of the pontiff or the Patriarch of Moscow are. It’s rather a matter of fate, of our church’s destiny, reverential trust. Because this is God’s will. Nevertheless, I’m confident that Pope Francisco will take steps towards our unity”.

On Thursday, Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias congratulated Pope Francisco on his election as the new head of the Roman Catholic Church and expressed hope for cooperation. The Patriarch said both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics should unite forces to defend fellow believers in countries where they’re under persecution, and to affirm traditional moral values in the modern secular world.

Milena Faustova15 March 2013

Milena Faustova

Voice of Russia World Service



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