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Catholic World News News Feature

Russia raising bars to missionary entry? September 09, 2005

A Moscow-based lawyer specializing in religious liberty believes that the Russian government is raising the barriers against foreign missionaries seeking to enter the country.

In a study on the problem, the Forum 18 news service finds that it is difficult to determine the number of foreign religious workers who are denied entry into Russia, since many religious leaders prefer not to report visa denials.

Catholic Bishop Clemens Pickel told Forum18 that the denial of a new visa for Father Janusz Blaut in October 2004-- after the priest had served for 10 years in Russia has left his Vladikavkaz parish without a priest. Father Blaut was the 8th Catholic cleric to be denied a visa in the past 10 years.

Yet Lutheran Bishop Siegfried Springer and Protestant overseer Hugo Van Niekerk-- both denied visas this summer-- have once more been granted them.

Bishop Jerzy Mazur, the Polish native who was barred from Russia in April 2002, has never been allowed to return to his Irkutsk diocese; he has been replaced by Bishop Cyryl Klimowicz, a Belarusian native who does not require a visa to enter Russia. Denied entry in August 2002, a Slovakian Catholic priest, Father Stanislav Krajnak, reportedly received a visa in 2004 but was summoned back to the Russian embassy within hours for it to be cancelled.

Of the 52 excluded religious workers since 1998 known to Forum 18-- whether Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, or Mormon-- only a handful have been allowed to return to Russia. Officials and the media have often stoked fears of "religious expansion" which, they argue, represents a threat to Russia's "national security."

[For the complete report on denial of visas to missionaries, see the Forum 18 web site.]

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