First Russian-born Catholic bishop for 100 years, hopeful

The first Russian-born Catholic bishop since the start of the Soviet era says he prefers to speak of challenges facing the minority Catholic Church rather than problems.

“Being a relatively small community, the Catholic Church in Russia is challenged with making a positive, constructive contribution as an integral part of society,” says Bishop Nikolai Dubinin.

For the past century clergy from other countries have been keeping the Catholic Church in Russia alive, he says.

“As a result of Soviet-era persecution, our Church was virtually destroyed, so clergy from different countries came here to help.

“But it’s taken almost 30 years, among native Russians who grew up in our local Church and took the path of priestly ministry, for a local bishop to be chosen.”

Although he’s the first Russian-born Catholic bishop in 100 years, Dubinin explains there were many before the 1917 revolution.

“I’m the first only one in the Church’s recent history,” the 47-year says.

The Catholic Church sees its mission as being to “sanctify” Russian society, he says.

“Our Church is open to all people. If a person comes, looking for God and truth and finds them in our Church, we will never close the door.”

At present ties with Russia’s predominant Orthodox church, which frequently complained of Catholic proselytism and encroachment in the 1990s, are “quite fruitful and good”, despite “stereotypes and misunderstandings.”

“There are always differences that can be brought to the fore and provide reasons for disagreement. But it seems to me there’s nothing insurmountable now – no sharp conflicts and confrontations, thank God.”

The Church has no ambition to “Catholicise the country. Nor are there “serious grounds” for accusing it of “proselytising,” Dubinin says.

“If we understand proselytism as the unjust attraction and enticement of believers by deception, with money and so on, then there has never been anything like this in our Church, and I hope there never will be. We did and do not have any intention of Catholicising Russia.”

The Catholic Church, currently making up less than half a percent of Russia’s population of 144.5 million, was savagely repressed under Soviet rule in 1917-1991, losing almost all its clergy and churches.

As the country’s first auxiliary bishop, Dubinin will serve northwestern areas of the Moscow-based Mother of God archdiocese, including Kaliningrad and St Petersburg, where he previously ran a publishing house and taught at the Church’s seminary.

Dubinin is a Conventual Franciscan who was ordained in 2000 after training in Poland. He says his family upbringing, with a Catholic mother and Orthodox father, had “conditioned” his life path.


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