Leader of Russia's Catholics Urges Unity

Moscow, Russia - The leader of Russia's Roman Catholics on Monday denied allegations by the Russian Orthodox Church that the Vatican was poaching converts, and he 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 John Paul campaigned for.

"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."

He said 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 participate in the May 9 celebrations commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Nazi defeat — an event he has not been officially invited to.