Russian archbishop comes to Baltimore Prelate honored at St. Mary's


He is not the archbishop of Moscow, but Russia's Roman Catholic archbishop in Moscow.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz laughed as he emphasized that point in Baltimore yesterday. He is accustomed now to making the fine distinction wherever he goes. Not long ago, it was a serious matter for the minority church he represents.

When he was installed in 1991 as the first Catholic prelate in Moscow for more than half a century, following a rapprochement between the Kremlin and the Vatican, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz was stung by a Vatican gaffe.

The official Catholic announcement of his appointment came without advance notification to the Orthodox, and media reports said the pope was making him archbishop of Moscow. Not so. That distinction is the exclusive province of the Russian Orthodox Church, and members of the Orthodox hierarchy were not amused.

In fact, the climate of ecclesiastical antagonism in the former Soviet Union was such that Orthodox Patriarch Alesky accused the Roman Catholic Church of "forceful expansionism" and said Pope John Paul II was not welcome in Moscow.

But fine-tuned diplomacy and shared moral and social problems have brought the two ancient branches of Christianity closer together in recent months.

"At the moment, our relations are not so bad as they were in 1991," Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said yesterday in the Charles Street rectory of the Basilica of the Assumption, where he was the guest of Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler. The visiting churchman, who is 47, was on his way to St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

He is on a 20-day visit to the United States, his first. In addition to Baltimore, his itinerary includes New York, Washington, Dallas, San Antonio and Denver. He returns to Russia March 16.

He is seeking financial help from American Catholics for his geographically vast and struggling diocese, in which 33 priests -- only two are native Russians -- administer 38 scattered parishes. Their total membership is an estimated 300,000 in a population of 150 million.

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said he is asking the U.S. government to help him persuade Russian officials to reject proposed laws that would reinstate state control of religion.

He also is seeking the return of more Roman Catholic church buildings seized after 1917 by the communists. So far, he said, only two Catholic churches have been returned, compared to 200 returned

to the Orthodox.

He said his requests for a one-on-one meeting with President Boris N. Yeltsin have been ignored.

But just last week, he said, "I had a very good meeting with [Orthodox] Metropolitan Kiril in Moscow about mutual problems in the charity field."

These shared concerns include getting medical treatment for children exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said that in one year, through cooperative church efforts, 3,000 children have been hospitalized in Poland. In a six-month period, nearly 350 will have been treated at a Catholic hospital in southern Italy.

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