Russia’s Catholic Church has welcomed the award of a Nobel Peace Prize to an independent newspaper editor, six of whose colleagues were murdered for their investigative work, as the Pope urged Russian Catholics to continue seeking “encounter and solidarity” with Orthodox Christians.
“This shows the Nobel jury cares about what Pope Francis never tires of emphasising – that we are all responsible for our human coexistence,” Fr Stephan Lipke, secretary-general of the Bishops Conference, told the German Catholic news agency, KNA. “He has also said we urgently need people who courageously and sincerely seek the truth, to whom human dignity and justice are important. We also want such people in our own society and Church.”
The German-born Jesuit was reacting to the honouring of Dmitry Muratov editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta daily, who was given the 2021 Prize jointly with the Filipina journalist Maria Ressauses
Meanwhile, the gesture to independent journalism was also welcomed by the head of Russia’s minority Evangelical Lutheran church, Archbishop Dietrich Brauer, who said the Prize was also being awarded to “outstanding Novaya Gazeta journalists murdered over the past 20 years”: Anastasia Baburova, Igor Domnikow, Natasha Estemirova, Stanislaw Markelow, Anna Politkovskaya and Yuri Shchekochichin.
In its citation, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee said Muratov and Ressauses had been chosen “for their efforts to defend freedom of expression, a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”, adding that the Peace Prize would also honour “all journalists who uphold this ideal in a world in which democracy and press freedom face increasingly adverse conditions”.
It said Muratov had championed free speech in Russia “in increasingly difficult conditions”, since co-founding the independent daily in 1993, defying “harassment, threats, violence and murder” to become a key information source on “aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media", including corruption, police violence, illegal arrests and electoral fraud”.
Asked about the award, a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, described Muratow as “talented and brave”, adding that he had “consistently dedicated himself to his ideals”. However, no comment was made on the Prize by Russia’s predominant Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, lauded President Vladimir Putin's contribution to mutually beneficial church-state relations in a weekend message for his 69th birthday, insisting he enjoyed “broad support in the nation”.
Meanwhile, the Nobel award coincided with a Sunday message from the Pope for the thirtieth anniversary of St John Paul II’s creation of apostolic administrations for Russia’s post-Soviet Catholic Church, whose million members now boast five Roman Catholic dioceses and a Greek Catholic exarchate.
The letter, addressed to the Vatican’s Moscow-based Nuncio, Archbishop Giovanni d’Aniello, urged Catholics to pay less attention to “the memory of legal acts and formal realities” which caused hardship in the past, and to act as an “evangelical seed”, sharing “encounter and solidarity with all, especially with brothers and sisters of the Orthodox church”.
“In the context of the eastern Christian tradition in which you live, it is important to continue walking together with all your fellow-Christians, without tiring of asking the Lord's help to deepen mutual knowledge and advance step by step on the path of unity,” the pontiff said. “By praying for all and serving those with whom we share the same humanity... we will rediscover ourselves as brothers and sisters in a common pilgrimage towards the goal of communion.”
Visting Rome last week, the Russian Orthodox church’s foreign relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, said he expected Patriarch Kirill to meet the Pope again soon to debate topics of mutual interest first raised at their historic February 2016 encounter in Cuba.