Leader of Russia's Catholics denies poaching for converts and calls for greater Christian Unity

The leader of Russia's Roman Catholics on Monday denied the Russian Orthodox Church's allegations that the Vatican was poaching for converts and renewed calls for the two branches of Christianity to come closer together.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz reaffirmed that "the (Catholic) Church has always been and will remain a minority church here." "All the statements that the Vatican is conducting the policy of 'catholicizing' Russia aren't grounded and are nothing but absurd," he said at a news conference.

The Russian Orthodox Church's claims of the Vatican's alleged proselytism prevented the late Pope John Paul II from fulfilling his longtime dream of visiting Russia. The Vatican has dismissed the charges, saying it is only catering to a small Catholic community of 600,000.

"We are here for the Catholics - for those who chose to be Catholics," Kondrusiewicz said. "I want to stress once again that we do not want to conduct the policy of proselytism."

He also called for greater Christian Unity between the Orthodox and Catholic branches - something for which the late pope also campaigned.

"The threats (today) are so great and so serious that we must respond to them together," Kondrusiewicz said, referring to abortions, euthanasia and genetic engineering - practices condemned by the Church.

"A lot will depend on this, maybe even the very fate of Christianity is at stake," Kondrusiewicz said.

He said that the local Catholic community would like to take a more active role in Russian society by having Catholic representatives meet with senior officials in the Kremlin and in Russia's far-flung regions. Kondrusiewicz also said he would like to take part in May 9 celebrations commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Nazi defeat - an event to which he has not been officially invited.

Associated Press

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