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Russian Catholics welcomed announcement of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, that he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.
Father Lawrence Cross, a priest in the Russian Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite and pastor of Holy Trinity St. Nicholas in St Kilda, Melbourne, said The Catholic Weekly, his Church saw the announcement as “a positive thing” – with a caveat.
“We welcome that. But it’s a bit late! It was requested in 1917, if I remember correctly,” he said.
“From the point of view of us Russian Catholics, 1917 was the beginning of a terrible story for us.
“It was only an awareness of divine protection, especially of Our Lady, that allowed Russian Catholics to get by.
“People should look at the writings of these living martyrs, like Father Walter Ciszek, the author of With God in Russia.
“You will see this kind of devotion to Our Lady emerge; someone who was immersed in the Gulag, tortured and brutalized.
“It was devotion to Our Lady, as part of their spirituality, that carried them through.”
Father Cross said there was a deep harmony between Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima and the well-known Slavic Marian devotion, the Pokrov, or Protection of the Blessed Virgin.
The Pokrov refers to the 10and century apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Andrew the Fool of Christ at the Church of Blachernae in Constantinople.
She threw her veil over the congregation to protect them, ironically, from an invasion of pagans from what was then called Rus’, before her conversion to Christianity.
“It became a very deep devotion, especially in the Slavic world and in Russia,” Father Cross said.
“We see this and Fatima as a whole.”
The Pokrov is also the holiday of the armed forces in Russia and Ukraine, and was particularly appreciated by the Cossacks, who chose her as their patroness.
“There is also something very human under there: the boy who is fighting over there, who is praying for him? His mother.” said Father Cross.
The Russian Catholic Church is one of the smallest Eastern Catholic Churches, with its origins in the desire of Russian philosophers of the “Silver Age” of the late 19and century to pursue the reunification of the churches.
It also has ties to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest sui iuris Eastern Catholic Church, due to the influence and organizational involvement of the early 20and century Ukrainian ecclesiastical Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky.
Metropolitan Sheptytsky has appointed Russia’s first Catholic Apostolic Exarch, Blessed Leonid Feodorov, who died in 1935 upon his release from the Soviet Gulag. He was beatified in 2001 by Saint John Paul II.