Priest Speculates Why He Was Expelled from Russia

Testimony of Father Jaroslaw Wisniewski

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ROME, SEPT. 30, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Here is Polish Father Jaroslaw Wisniewski's testimony on the reasons for his expulsion from the Russian Federation on Sept. 10, after his arrival at Khbarovsk airport, on the Pacific coast of Siberia.



At the time, he was on his way to his parishes in Petropavlovsk and Sakhalin, in eastern Siberia.

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An official statement of the Orthodox Church, issued at the end of June 2002, criticized the Catholic Church for excessive activity and for attracting ethnic Russians. The Russian language distinguishes between Russian citizens and lifetime ethnic Russians, an especially important distinction for the Orthodox Church, which considers the latter their exclusive pastoral responsibility.

Metropolitan Kirill, author of the document, said that Russia does not need foreign missionaries, because it was already baptized 1,000 years ago and is Orthodox in the majority. According to the bishop, we Catholics are proselytizing among Russians.

The document includes names of Catholic priests and religious, and lists congregations that include in their official name the word missionaries: Divine Word missionaries, Claretian missionaries, Holy Family missionaries. ... My name was also on that list.

Bishop Cyril mentioned my disagreeable interview in a television program in Kamchatka, in which I expressed a historical truth, hoping to cause an impact on the local population, who do not know how close Catholics and Orthodox were.

Given our competence in Russia, the Moscow Orthodox prefer to be silent about it, and always refer to us Catholics as heretics. ... Hence, my speaking about this taboo is the second possible cause of my expulsion.

Then there is the history of Karafuto. Sakhalin, the parish in Russia close to Hokkaido, where I resided for the past three years, has a beautiful Catholic tradition linked to Japanese roots. I searched for details and discovered that, in Japanese times -- 1905-1945 -- around 34 priests worked there. It is very easy to get information in the Diocese of Sapporo.

Up to December 2000, Bishop Peter Jinushi was the apostolic prefect of Sakhalin, and as the community was destroyed in 1948 -- it was finally renewed in 1992 by Korean missionaries of Taegu -- the Russian authorities were never concerned about it.

The problem began only when the canonical responsibility for Sapporo was transferred to Irkusketia, and this diocese wrote on all its documents "Eastern Siberia" and "Karafuto." For this reason, someone said in Moscow that an excuse was being given to return Sakhalin to Japan.

From our Catholic point of view, the Vatican has totally respected Russian sovereignty over Sakhalin: Bishop Mazur of Irkutsk was appointed head of Sakhalin instead of the Japanese bishop. The recently appointed bishop simply respected the tradition and continued to call Sakhalin Karafuto, without any political significance.

For these reasons, between January and April 10, 2002, I was called by the Ministry of Justice to the court and to the Immigration Police to explain the situation. We obeyed the Russian directives but, unfortunately, this did not satisfy them, and Bishop Mazur was expelled on April 19 and now, on Sept. 10, perhaps I was expelled for the same reason.

The amusing thing about all this is that it is only about probable reasons. The immigration police give the sole explanation that every country has the sovereign right to prohibit entrance to foreigners. The Holy See has protested, but there has been no reaction.

At present, I am one of five priests expelled from Russia without being given an official explanation. The difference is that the priests who preceded me had a temporary one-year visa, while I had been in Russia for 10 years and in 2000 obtained a valid visa for five years, until 2005, with the possibility of obtaining Russian nationality in 2003. Lawyers have told me that this document may be annulled only by the court. This is why I think my case is very special, and I ask defenders of human rights to think about how this case can be resolved.

I could mention other possible motives. The following is a personal opinion.

Catholics, having many generous friends in foreign countries, have recently built many beautiful churches in Russia. As the Orthodox Patriarchate does not have so many friends, it builds fewer churches. I was able to build a lovely church in the center of Sakhalin. This was, perhaps, the main practical though not juridical reason to expel me.

In the times of the czarist empire, when Orthodoxy was the state religion, Catholics were forbidden to build churches with spires that were higher than the local Orthodox churches'. It is amusing, because that was the situation. It seems that the Orthodox authority wants to restore this norm.