Right before his elevation to the rank of Bishop and assuming duties of the head of the Catholic Archdiocese in Moscow, Monsignor Paolo Pezzi gave an interview to Interfax-Religion editor-in-chief Valentina Dudkina.
- How do you feel about your appointment as the head of the Catholic Archdiocese in Moscow?
- I am called by the Holy Father to take part in the Apostolic Succession, which is the sacramental dialogue of Jesus with “his people”. I took this appointment with awe. St. Augustine said that a bishop is the one who looks closely at Jesus. Therefore, I believe that the message of bishop’s service is to give a proper response to Christ’s call “Follow Me”. The oath taken by the doctors “First, do no harm” also comes to mind. A bishop should remember this advice in his service. I am comforted by the fact that the God Who called me to this uneasy service will never leave me without His support and help. Embarking on this new task, I feel a strong desire that everything I do in word or deed be in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Ref.: Col 3:17); and my whole life be the evidence of passion for the sake of the Glory of Christ in history.
I hope that I will not lack prayers and active support from those faithful to the Archdiocese – priests, monastic clergy, and laity. With the Help of God, together we will be able to overcome any difficulties.
-What changes do you plan to make as the head of the Archdiocese of the Holy Virgin?
- First, I should say that I view my new service in Russia as a continuation and improvement of the work started before me. It should be the continuation, not the beginning. Life itself implies a sustained development and renewal. All the more so, if we remember the most difficult situation when Russia began to revive its church life almost two decades ago.
In simple words, we focus on nurturing faith, a mature faith, which turns into a living testimony in all spheres of every-day life (family, work, science, politics and other). It is notable, that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have cooperated in their efforts to address the issues of nurturing and Christian values both on European and even global levels.
I could briefly name some of our basic objectives: taking most care of priests and monks who wok in the archdiocese along with further improvement of existing pastoral care; and further improvement of the process of ordination – both in preparing to ordination to the priesthood and during the first years of service of young priests. I am happy to evidence a substantial progress in improving inter-confessional relations, but this joint work needs to be continued in every possible way. Moreover, this work is in full keeping with the will and intentions expressed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. First of all, I mean a friendly, valid, and substantial dialogue with the Orthodox tradition, which is represented in Russia mainly by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and is deeply rooted in the Russian society. We also need to give a close attention to the pressing problems of the modern Russian society. We should work to further improve and update the media from conception standpoint.
- What do you think of the widely discussed initiatives of the Russian Orthodox Church to teach the Basics of the Orthodox Culture at schools and restore military priesthood?
- I strongly believe in the fundamental importance of the Christian education for the benefit of the whole society. Faith in God Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life is the critical principle of the recovery of society not only for every individual Christian, but also for each country and humankind as a whole (whether or not it is admitted); so it is very important that young people at school age and in a difficult period of their military service learn about their Christian heritage which in Russia took shape of the Orthodoxy. Therefore, I cannot but favour teaching of this subject in schools or reinstitution of military clergy, although I can see the challenges related to the issues so widely discussed in this country, as you correctly put it in asking me your question. To my mind, the main thing here is to speak “in favour” and not “against”, and most favourably present the Christian religion and the Orthodoxy itself in its beauty and riches to reach hearts and minds of young people. We also need to promote the freedom of our young counterparts to accept our proposal. My teacher Luigi Giussani, an Italian Catholic priest, wrote a book with a seemingly funny but very meaningful name “The Risk of Education”. We will never live in a free and responsible society, unless we bring up free and responsible people.
- How far do you think Catholics may expand their missionary practice in the countries which belong to the canonical territory in the Russian Orthodox tradition?
- I personally got interested in Russia because of my love of the Russian culture in its full variety (music, icon painting, and religion philosophy) following the steps of Father Giussani. I remember, for example, that when I was at the very start of my religious way my friends gave me a replica of Andrey Rublyov's icon The Savior of Zvenigorod which I have always had with me. The word “mission” – in its evangelical interpretation – means a grateful acceptance of the God’s Love and an attempt to pass this personal experience, as in the historic life of Christ who was sent (in Latin missum) – this is the etymology of the word! – by his Father by virtue of their mutual love. The Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo to which I belong was founded in 1985 in response to the appeal of Pope John Paul II who said “Go round the whole world, bring everywhere truth, beauty, and peace which we meet in Jesus the Savior.” Seeking to answer this appeal, members of our fraternity live in small communities as the twelve disciples lived together with Christ. They see the Christian message (that is, again, “mission” in the evangelic sense of the word) as enthusiasm in the Glory of Christ. Indeed, mission is a testimony of evangelical values. And proselytism starts at the point where the real mission ends. Therefore, if all of us - both Catholics and Orthodox - practice “mission”, we can develop good understanding and pursue unity, as there will be no place left for conflicts!
It cannot be denied that regardless of overall cultural differences between the Catholic and the Orthodox worlds, the Catholic Church and Local Orthodox Churches make joint efforts to address the basic challenges of modern life. Appeals for joint Catholic-Orthodox efforts to protect Christian values sound increasingly often and urgent.
- You were born in Russi, Italy. Isn’t it providential that you are now appointed the bishop of the largest Catholic diocese in Russia?
- Of cause, this may seem accidental, but I take it as an omen that my native small town located not far away from ancient Ravenna is named Russi which may be translated as Russians.