- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Pope John Paul II will beatify a Warsaw bishop famous for his efforts to boost the Catholic Church in Czarist Russia a move that seems destined to inflame already tense relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Russian Orthodox leaders have not responded publicly to the Vatican's Aug. 12 announcement that the pope will beatify Zygmunt Felix Felinski during a homecoming trip to Poland that begins today.
But Moscow and the Vatican have been engaged in an increasingly pointed exchange over what Russian Orthodox officials charge are aggressive moves by the Roman Catholic Church to boost its administrative presence and believer base in such traditionally Orthodox strongholds as Russia and Ukraine.
Patriarch Alexy II earlier this year condemned the Vatican's moves as the equivalent of "an invasion of Russia."
Archbishop Felinski was a 19th century Polish cleric who spent 20 years in Siberian exile for challenging Czar Alexander II's suppression of a Polish nationalist revolt in 1863.
His beatification, the penultimate step toward Catholic sainthood, is just one highlight of an emotional four-day journey for the frail, 82-year-old John Paul II, the ninth visit to his native land since his election to the papacy in 1978 and his first since 1999.
An estimated 2 million believers are expected to attend an open-air Mass Sunday near Krakow, the city where he served as bishop. In addition to Archbishop Felinski, the pope plans to beatify three other Polish Catholic figures during his trip.
But Archbishop Felinski is clearly the most politically sensitive choice, given the testy recent exchanges between the two rival Christian faiths.
Russian Orthodox leaders reacted furiously to the Vatican's decision in February to upgrade four apostolic administrative districts into formal dioceses. The moves came after highly publicized visits by John Paul II to Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Russian Orthodox leaders abruptly canceled a planned visit by a papal envoy to discuss relations between the two churches. Two Roman Catholic prelates, including the bishop for the huge new diocese based in Irkutsk, were barred in April from returning to Russia by border officials, despite holding valid visas.
Archbishop Thaddaeus Kondrusiewicz, the new spiritual head of the Russian Catholic dioceses, complained in an interview with The Washington Times this spring that Russian Orthodox leaders were guilty of a "double standard," expanding operations in the West while blocking similar moves by the Catholic Church in Russia.
The bulk of Russia's Catholics today whose numbers have been variously estimated at between 660,000 and 1.3 million are descendants of Poles, Lithuanians, Germans and other ethnic groups that migrated to Russia or found themselves living under the old Czarist or Soviet empires.
For many of these believers, the story of Archbishop Felinski has special resonance.
Born in a small village in what is now Ukraine, Archbishop Felinski tried to mediate between the political aspirations of his Polish flock and the reality of the czar's imperial domination.
Exiled to Siberia in 1863, Archbishop Felinski became a leader of the prison's Catholic faithful.

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