Today in Moscow, for the first time since the Communist Revolution in 1917, a Catholic bishop was consecrated on Russian soil.
The ceremony, held in a packed Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in central Moscow, marked the end of one era and the beginning of another for the Catholic Church in Russia, as the new bishop, Paolo Pezzi, a 47-year-old Italian theologian, took over the leadership of the Catholic Church in Russia's capital from the Belorussian Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, 57, who will move to a difficult assignment in Minsk, the capital of Belorussia.
Kondrusieiwicz, who has led the Catholic Church in Moscow since 1991, when the Soviet Union fell, through the period of its slow re-emergence from the catacombs of the communist period, was the principal consecrator of Pezzi, who has served for many years as the rector of the Catholic seminary in St. Petersburg.
Dozens of Italians came from Moscow, and from Italy, including Pezzi's mother and a number of relatives, to witness Pezzi's consecration to the episcopacy.
The other two consecrators were the Italian Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Holy See's nuncio in Russia, and Bishop Joseph Werth, a Russian of German ancestry, the bishop of Novosibirsk in Siberia.
The ceremony, which last from 4 pm until 7 pm, was marked by the use of three languages: Russian, Italian, and Latin. The Epistle, Gospel and the questions asked of the new bishop were spoken in Russian. The homily, given by Kondrusiewicz, was in Russian and then in Italian.
The consecration was in Latin.
The Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow sent two representatives, Father Igor Vyzhanov and Father Vsevolod Chaplin, who were given seats of honor in the front of the church.
I was present eight years ago, on December 12, 1999, when Archbishop Kondrusiewicz consecrated the altar of the basilica in a moving ceremony together with the Vatican Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano, and so I had mixed emotions as I watched Kondrusiewicz on the eve of his departure from Moscow -- sad to see Kondrusiewicz, whose ceaseless labors allowed the Catholic Church in Russia to get back onto her feet again, depart; and happy to see Pezzi, a personable and profoundly spiritual man, take the torch from his predecessor, and the opportunity now to extend his hand beyond his own flock, in respect and friendship, toward the Russian Orthodox Church, here in its homeland.
What opens up now with Pezzi's succession here is a chance for a next stage in the relationship between Rome and Moscow, and so between the Roman Catholic Church and Russian Orthodoxy.
Pezzi, a member of the Communion and Liberation movement founded by the late Italian priest Luigi Giussani (which Pope Benedict XVI has highly praised), will likely focus his efforts on the cultural, spiritual and theological riches of the western and eastern traditions which can mutually enrich one another.
Robert Moynihan PhD writes for Inside the Vatican Magazine.