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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Catholics Join Pope to Pray

ELBLAG, Poland -- The archbishop of Moscow led 700 Roman Catholic faithful from Russia to a prayer service with Pope John Paul II in this northern Polish town.

"It is a great mercy of God for our people to come here to see the Holy Father and it is a great mercy of God that the church in Russia is recovering,'' Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said Sunday. "I hope our pilgrimage here will strengthen their faith.''

He also wished for a papal visit to Russia, saying: "We are all dreaming of the day when the pope can come to Russia and set foot in Red Square and St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad,'' a Russian territory that borders northern Poland.

Communist leaders in the former Soviet Union repressed religious expression and persecuted religious leaders. Since the end of communist rule throughout Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, John Paul has expressed a desire to ignite spiritual growth in the region.

Most of the Russian visitors came from a parish in Kaliningrad with their priest, Alexander Krewski, 30, a Belarussian who converted to Catholicism when he was in the military. A banner in the crowd read, "Kaliningrad greets the pope.''

Members of the visiting group remembered the old days of repression.

"Things are changing for us but for many years the situation was very bad for the Catholics,'' said Stanislawa Osiejczyk, 76, a retired seamstressoriginally from Belarus. "There were church buildings but we did not have any pr iests. I remember how happy we were when we got our first priest in 1991.''

Krystyna Pieriedevi, 52, an economist forced to work as a cleaning woman due to Russia's economic turmoil, said she hoped the pope could visit Kaliningrad.

"His Slavic roots help make us closer,'' she said. "He knows us and our problems much better then any other pope would have known.''