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Russian religious education hailed

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Even though the Catholic faith is not included in the project, the Moscow-based Catholic archbishop hailed the Russian Government’s plan to reintroduce religious education in public schools.

The plan, announced on July 21 by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, demonstrated that the anti-religious sentiment that marked Soviet communism no longer dominates society, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, head of the Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, said.

“In my opinion today there is a very strong yearning, a desire to find the meaning of life, including through religion,” the archbishop told Vatican Radio on July 23.

Mr Medvedev’s pilot program would give the parents of students at 12,000 middle schools in 18 regions of Russia a choice between having their children study Russian Orthodoxy or secular ethics at school.

Schools that have a significant number of Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist students would offer courses in those faiths as well.

“As a minority, we are not part of the official plan” for offering religious instruction in schools, Archbishop Pezzi said.

“If in some schools the presence of Catholic students was large enough to justify forming a group, we would evaluate the situation and consider asking for this possibility,” he said.

Still, he said, even a limited pilot project demonstrated that the Government realised that a full education included more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

“Even if we are not directly involved,” he said, the Catholic Church can assist school administrators and the Orthodox officials designing the curriculum because the Church had experience in offering religious instruction in public schools in many European countries.

“Today there is not a generally prejudicial position against the Catholic Church”, so the new education project can be an opportunity for Catholics to share their expertise and demonstrate their desire to contribute to the good of Russian society, he said.

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