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ICC Note:

The return of a Catholic church to an archbishop in Moscow 50 years after it was confiscated by Soviet authorities is a reminder that the effects of persecution under communism are still being felt.

MOSCOW, JUNE 29, 2006 ( A Catholic church confiscated 50 years ago by Soviet authorities has been returned to the archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow.

In a ceremony on Sunday, government authorities signed the Church of St. John the Baptist over to Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, and in a symbolic gesture handed him the keys of the church, and a cross bearing a representation of the temple.

The church, built in the early 19th century in the village of Pushkin in northwestern Russia , a short distance South of St. Petersburg, had been closed since 1938.

During the Soviet era the church was used for physical education and concerts.

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” said Archbishop Kondrusiewicz on taking possession of the church.

During the Mass, which gathered some 200 faithful, the archbishop said that “Christ comes to his disciples through the service of the Church.”

Also attending the ceremony were Igor Rimmer, deputy of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg; Ivan Sautov, director of the Tsarkoe Selo National Museum; as well as Russian priests and Protestants.

During the Mass, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz blessed an icon of Our Lady of Fatima made especially for the church.

Construction began on the church of St. John the Baptist by order of Czar Alexander I in 1823, and was completed in 1826.

Soviet authorities closed the church after arresting the pastor and pressuring those in charge to sign a document stating that they were “unable to repair the church and to pay the state the taxes corresponding to the property.”

The first religious celebration took place again in the church in 1991.