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Russia: church leader protests at 'anti-Catholic campaign'

 The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia has appealed to human rights groups to protest at what he calls a "large-scale anti-Catholic campaign" in the country. Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Archbishop of the archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, said yesterday: "We are seeing once again a replay of the drama of the Catholic Church in Russia, which, having endured cruel persecution in the 20th century and being almost everywhere destroyed, is undergoing new trials after a decade of difficult development. We are returning to the era in which Russians were without pastors." The Archbishop said the Catholic Church contributed to the creation of a democratic state, and "as a Russian citizen" he appealed for respect for the laws of his nation. Already five foreign-born Catholic priests have had their Russian visas revoked this year. On Tuesday Fr Edward Mackiewicz was turned back at the Belarus-Poland border. The Archbishop said Catholics in Russia were facing many other problems including bans on building new churches, vandalism and the desecration of existing church buildings. A campaign existed in Russia to portray a "mythological image of a Catholic enemy" he said. He added that hostilities had been stepped up since the Pope's visit to the former Soviet republics and the Vatican's decision to upgrade its apostolic administrations in Russia to full dioceses. The Russian Orthodox Church complains that Roman Catholics are poaching converts - while the Catholic Church insists it is simply trying to provide pastoral care to the existing Catholic community. There are around 600,000 Catholics in Russia - a tiny minority in a nation of 144 million where two-thirds of the population say they are Orthodox.