A very small Italian community on Russian soil, in constant movement, with people coming and going, and with a great mission: to be a “home” for the newly arrived, a stable and joyful point of reference owing to the appeal exerted by Italy on Russian people, an ever-extended bridge in times marked by the quest for new avenues of dialogue. It’s the description of Italians in Moscow according to the Archbishop of Moscow Monsignor Paolo Pezzi, who on March 19 visited the Italian Catholic community in the Russian capital. The Archbishop’ visit – said the coordinator of the Italian Mission, Fr Gianpiero Caruso – is “a privileged opportunity to be supported and confirmed in the faith.” During the Eucharistic celebration, held in the Church of St. Louis of the French, was also celebrated the baptism of a fellow contrywoman. “It was another reason to rejoice”, the priest remarked.
Over 2000 Italians live in Moscow. Smaller numbers are present in St. Petersburg and in other cities of Russia and also in Siberia. Most members of the Italian community in Moscow are workers, businessmen in the trade sector. There are also cooks and architects, “signalling a Russian market with a special appeal for Italy’s architectural and artistic beauty.” Italians also work in the field of education, with several teachers in the academic realm, along with embassy officials and their families. However, over the past years the latter’s presence has declined owing to the embargo decided after Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, that targeted a set of commodities, notably foodstuffs, causing a decrease in investments with negative fallout also in other sectors.
As compared to other ethnic communities in the Country, the Italian Catholic community shines for its ability to “be a home, a family, and not a ghetto”, said Archbishop Pezzi, who explained: “It is a place marked by a feeling of communion and by the feeling of being family, while at the same time it is also a bridge that interacts with the place where the members of the community live and work. The Italian Catholic community is united but it’s not closed.” It’s the mission – Msgr. Pezzi pointed out – that “the Italian Church can carry out in Europe and in the rest of the world,
Namely, not to be closed-in to defend something, but to be certain of what it has, the encounter with Jesus, in order to serve as witness to others.”
The building of “bridges” is unquestionably favoured by the Russian people’s attraction for Italy. “It’s the appeal – the archbishop said – exerted by the mystery of the faith incarnated in Italian architecture and works of art.” To this regard Msgr. Pezzi spoke about the exhibition “Rome, open city”, that opened in December, ongoing until past February. The entry tickets were all sold out (over 200 thousand) in the first ten days, an evident sign of the “immediate interest” in the initiative. Moreover, the Russian people followed with deep sympathy the recent earthquakes that hit Italy.
“Several people told me they were deeply moved by the images of the damage caused by the seism, especially those of the destroyed churches.” The Catholic community in Russia promptly reacted by collecting a sum that was devolved to the Italian Church as “a sign of closeness and solidarity.”
Nonetheless, in many cases these two worlds appear to be distant. Ecumenical relations experienced a major upswing after the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Cuba. But many problems remain unsolved, preventing decisive steps forward. The latter – added Msgr. Pezzi – “will depend on the extent to which we are truly determined to follow the direction of mutual reception or whether we intend to live with barriers and prejudices. They will depend on our willingness to get to know each other better. They will depend on whether we will start giving witness to charity together. These are the new signs I see before me, and in fact many of these gestures involve Italians.” How? “Italians – replied the Archbishop – are people with an open faith, they know how to create movement and opportunities for encounter. This is the mission I see and that I have asked of the Italian community. I told them not to be worried about the numbers, about the results, but to live their faith with joy where they are, creating opportunities for encounter and sharing, to look at one another straight in the eye and do works of charity together.” In an interview with the German daily “Die Zeit” the Pope said it still isn’t the time to go to Moscow. “Rather than suffering for it – confided Msgr. Pezzi – it increases the wish.”
Catholics in Russia continue wishing and hoping in the Pope’s visit.
Last Sunday a family told me that they have been living here for many years and that now they are planning to return to Italy. I asked them: and what if the Pope comes? They answered: in that case we would wait for him here.”