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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Recognition Growing For Catholic Church

As Russia's Roman Catholics prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday, there are signs that their church has strengthened its position in this country despite the passage of a strict new law on religion and tense relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The appointment in late March of two new Catholic bishops to Russia by Pope John Paul II and the announcement of the first-ever broadcast of the pope's Easter Mass on Russian television have given church officials confidence that Catholicism is putting down roots.

"Our existence here is quite difficult, but I dare to say that the Catholic Church has nevertheless assumed some place in [Russian] society," said Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the top Catholic official in European Russia.

The church's position in Russia has been a source of worry for Catholic officials, especially in light of the recent passage of a law that erects bureaucratic hurdles to Catholic and other religious activity here.

The church's place is made even more precarious by its uneasy relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox leadership has repeatedly accused the Catholic Church of proselytizing in Russia. It has criticized the size of the Catholic hierarchy in Russia, arguing that it exceeds what is necessary to cater to the spiritual needs of the country's more than 1 million Catholics, predominantly Russians of Polish, German, Lithuanian and Belarussian descent.

The planned early Sunday morning broadcast of Easter Mass from the Vatican by Ren TV, a minor Russian network, is probably the most high-profile example of the Catholic Church's growing public recognition.

For the past several years, Kondrusiewicz said, he has tried to persuade Russian television channels to show the service, seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

"They didn't want to hear about the Vatican," Kondrusiewicz said.

Ren TV, which has affiliates in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, each with sizable Catholic communities, approached the Vatican on its own initiative several months ago to secure the broadcast rights without contact with Russian Catholic officials.

The broadcast will start at 12:25 a.m. Sunday and run for more than two hours. In some areas of Moscow, Ren TV is available on local cable systems. In other parts of the city, reception of Ren TV on channel 49 requires an antenna.

Dmitry Lesnevsky, the Ren TV general director, called Catholic Easter a cultural event of international importance.

"Ignoring it only because Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in the country is unfair, at least for several million Catholics [who live in the former Soviet Union]," Lesnevsky said.

Ren TV spokeswoman Yulia Yermarkevich said the company had notified the Moscow Patriarchate of its plans and received no negative reaction.

Kondrusiewicz said he had also not received any negative reaction from the Orthodox Church over the March appointment of two new bishops to Russia, doubling the country's current number of prelates.

Kondrusiewicz said the new bishops -- German-born Klemens Pickel, already in place in the Volga region, and Polish native Jerzy Mazur, who will be brought from Belarus to Eastern Siberia -- are needed to cover such a large country.

For the two bishops previously working in Russia, he said, it was "physically and practically impossible" to visit all the church's parishes and Catholic groups, which are scattered across Russia's vast territory.

When the Vatican created its two apostolic administrations, or quasi-dioceses, in Russia in 1991, it generated an uproar from the Russian Orthodox Church, which said it had not been notified despite being formally declared by Rome as "sister church."

But Hieromonk Hilarion Alfeyev, the Orthodox Church's official in charge of relations with non-Orthodox Christians, confirmed that the church had no reaction to the new appointments and refused to comment further.