A report on the Interfax-Religion web site has caused a stir in Fatima circles. The headline says it all, or almost all: Vatican has no plans to convert Russia to Catholicism – Cardinal Paul Poupard. According to the article,
The Vatican does not want to convert Russia to Catholicism, and relations with the Moscow Patriarchate are improving, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Paul Poupard, told students of the Orthodox St. Tikhon Humanitarian University on Monday. Poupard said the Vatican never wanted to make Russia a Catholic country.
Note that there are no quotes wrapped around the thoughts attributed to Cardinal Poupard. It is possible that the Russian news agency botched the report totally. Rather than criticize His Eminence for something he may not have said, we will simply and briefly set the record strait, especially regarding the last sentence, which is not only false, but scandalous and transparently revisionist.
The Holy See (“the Vatican”) has always wanted the return of Russia, and the rest of the schismatic East, to Roman unity. First, she has given us official, indulgenced prayers to that end. One of these prayers asks that, “returning freely to the one fold entrusted by the loving Heart of the Risen Christ to Saint Peter and his successors,” our Russian brethren “may at length taste the joy of glorifying the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in the fellowship of the holy Catholic Church.”
Second, there are many popes who have sought the reunion of the Churches of the East with the Rome. See, for instance Orientales Omnes Ecclesias, the Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII on the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the reunion of the Ruthenian Church with the Apostolic See (December 23, 1945). This encyclical praises the Ruthenian bishops, who, amid great persecutions, “did everything possible for the protection and safe-keeping of the flocks entrusted to them, and, more than that, in their dire straits they exerted every effort, by prayer and argument and labor, to bring the whole Russian Church with the tsar Alexis into the unity of the fold.” An earlier example is from Benedict XIV’s Allatae Sunt (July 26, 1755), on the observance of Oriental Rites. See what the following passage from paragraph six of that encyclical does to the statement attributed to Cardinal Poupard: “That man would be utterly ignorant also of the present discipline of the Church who had not discovered that the Roman Pontiffs, undeterred by past fruitless attempts, have always intended to restore the Greeks to union and have always followed and still follow the path We have explained just above. This can be clearly gathered both from their words and from their deeds.” (“Greeks” as used in this encyclical, and other Roman documents, was a reference to Byzantine Christians, including Russians.)
Third, there were two Ecumenical Councils — Lyons II and Florence — which are commonly called “union councils” because they effected the union of the Christians of the East, including Russians, with the Holy See. Lamentably, these reunions were terribly short-lived.
Fourth: Throughout the nineteenth century, there was a concerted effort on the part of Catholics to convert Russia. This is well documented in Gary Potter’s article, The Conversion of Russia. For more on this, see Two Patrons for True Ecumenism and scroll down to the section with the heading “Dom Guéranger on St. Josaphat and the Conversion of Russia.” Abbot Guéranger was expressing an aspiration on the heart of many Catholics in his day.
Fifth, Father Joaquin Maria Alonso, S.T.D., Ph.D., the official Archivist of Fatima, declared that Our Lady’s words at Fatima (“If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace.”) were a reference to Russia’s conversion to the Catholic Church. See the great Fatima scholar’s article here: The True Meaning of the “Conversion” of Russia.
Secularists, liberals, heretics, schismatics, and unbelievers of all stripes act threatened by a Catholic Church which openly speaks of seeking converts. Yet that is exactly what the Catholic Church has always sought to do by her preaching, prayers, and missionary work. Yes, the world will hate us for trying to bring its votaries into the Mystical Body of Christ, but is that not what Our Lord said? “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you…. The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18, 20).
Let us have the courage of our convictions and not be afraid to seek converts of all men and nations, remembering always the words of St. Peter: “But if also you suffer any thing for justice’ sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled” (I Pet. 3:14).