I found this article to be of particular interest because a few years ago my son was in Vladivastok, Russia. He was there participating in a two week mission with the tiny, re-emerging Roman Catholic community in the region. The group was free to visit and go wherever they liked but they were prohibited from volunteering why they were there. Interestingly, whether in a college classroom or on the street, the purpose of their visit always presented itself. Quanah's experience was that the young people were very poor in faith and were much influenced by TV shows they watched dating back to the 80's. In a 2003 world, this was a very strange experience to encounter.
Pope warns about aggressive conversion efforts
By Frances D'emilio
ASSOCIATED PRESS - October 2, 2008
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI cautioned Roman Catholic bishops in former Soviet republics on Thursday against aggressive means of gaining converts, an issue that has complicated attempts to reconcile his church with Orthodox Christians.
A Vatican envoy to Moscow, meanwhile, reported progress in improving relations between the two communions that could one day pave the way for a papal visit to Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church has accused the Vatican of poaching for converts. The Roman Catholic Church contends it is simply looking after its tiny flock in former Soviet nations, where Orthodoxy is the predominant Christian denomination.
In general, such countries do not forbid Orthodox worshippers to convert to Catholicism, but Orthodox authorities have complained about other faiths.
For instance, the U.S. State Department recently reported that respect for religious freedom in Tajikistan has declined over the last year.
That was evident on Thursday when Nozirdzhon Buriyev, a spokesman for the former Soviet republic, said a court has ordered the banning of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Central Asian country. He said the group was found by a military court to have breached religious legislation and illegally imported faith literature.
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI thanked an audience of visiting bishops from former Soviet republics in Central Asia for having worked to keep “the flame of faith lit, despite the tough pressures exercised during the years of the atheist and communist regime.”
But while the pope urged the bishops to keep the Christian faith alive, he said he wanted to remind them that “the Church never imposes, but freely proposes the Catholic faith.”
“That is precisely why any form of proselytizing, which forces, or induces and attracts someone with inopportune subterfuge to embrace the faith, is prohibited,” Benedict said in his speech.
Tensions with Orthodox leaders after the demise of Soviet Union prevented Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, from realizing his dream of a pilgrimage to Moscow.
Meanwhile, Naples Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, just back from a trip to Moscow, told Vatican Radio that there has been “a notably important step” made toward creating a climate of mutual respect between Catholics and Orthodox.
He said his talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II centered on how both sides can work together to revive Europe's Christian roots, a theme dear to Benedict who sent Sepe on the mission to Moscow.
As for any papal visit to the Russian capital, Sepe would only say, “Let Providence do its work. ... When, how and where, let's leave that up to providence.
The 15 independent nations that split from the Soviet Union during its breakup include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.