In Siberia, Divine Word Missionaries Hope to Show Church´s Universality

Statements of Superior Following Expulsion of Bishop Jerzy Mazur

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ROME, APRIL 28, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Divine Word missionaries are trying to show Siberia that the Catholic Church isn´t just a Polish institution.



"The tendency of the people who live there is to view the Church as a Polish institution, because most of the priests come from Poland," said Father Antonio Pernia, superior of the Society of the Divine Word.

"Now, by sending other missionaries of different origin, we are trying to show and bear witness to the universality of the Church," he added. Many of the congregation´s vocations come from the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

The congregation´s members include Bishop Jerzy Mazur of the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, in eastern Siberia, who was recently expelled from Russia by the authorities.

In statements to Vidimus Dominum, the news service of religious communities, Father Pernia, explained the spirit with which his religious work in this diocese of 10 million square kilometers, with 15 million inhabitants, and 48,000 Catholics.

"An attempt at dialogue with the Orthodox Church remains open, in order to make the impression disappear that we are stealing ... their believers," Father Pernia said. "We also have social programs and collaboration to alleviate the conditions of drug addicts and alcoholics."

This aspect is crucial for Father Pernia, inasmuch as "beyond the Catholic community, it is a way to be able to meet both non-Catholics as well as all of those people who are needy."

Collaboration "is possible at the level of dialogue with the common people, while at this moment in time it is more difficult with the hierarchies of the Orthodox Church," Father Pernia continued. "Instead, the people, the faithful, are more open to collaboration, especially when it concerns social problems."

The Society of the Divine Word works in 63 countries and has a strong presence in Asia. In 2000, the congregation decided to put more emphasis on Africa, where 400 Divine Word missionaries work in 11 countries.