Ukrainian Catholics call for return of church buildings

 The Roman Catholic community in the central Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr, is appealing for the return of a number of buildings taken from them by the Soviet regime. Although President Leonid Kuchma pledged in 2003 to return church property to its original owners, as yet very little progress has been made to fulfill this promise. The Roman Catholic parish in Zhytomyr and the Franciscan monastery attached to it were founded in 1761. In Soviet times, a museum was situated on the premises, and later a military registration and enlistment office. While many Franciscans were killed under the Soviet regime, some survived and during Perestroika in the 1980s one of the last priests of this order secretly received the religious profession of several new friars. The secret was not revealed until 1991, when the monastery was restored. Thirteen years ago the authorities returned the neglected church building to the Roman Catholic community, and later some of the monastery buildings. But most of the building is still being used as a military enlistment office. In recent months the Catholic community has staged a peaceful protest outside the office asking for the return of their building. Eight monks live in the monastery. The monastic superior says that if the state returned the former property to the church, the monastery would be able to set up a dining room for orphans and classrooms for the catechesis of children and youth. Colonel Sokorchuk, assistant head of the military registration and enlistment office, said he wanted to move but the delay was being caused by lack of funding. He said that the Catholic community had become more active because presidential elections are coming up on 31 October, and because "the year of Poland in Ukraine" is being celebrated in 2004. This conflict is not unique for Zhytomyr. For twelve years, Roman Catholic Bishop Jan Purwinski has been appealing for the return of his diocesan administration building - which is currently being used as the regional museum. The bishop is living in a converted bell-tower overlooking the museum. Zhytomyr has one of the largest Roman Catholic communities in Ukraine. According to the last general census, 60, 000 Poles, many of whom are Roman Catholics, live in Zhytomyr. Source: RISU

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