Fr Nicolai Dubinin has become the first Russian to be appointed a Catholic bishop since the fall of communism.
Last Thursday, Pope Francis appointed the 47-year-old Conventual Franciscan as auxiliary bishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moscow and designated him the Titular See of Acque di Bizacena.
Since Church institutions were re-established after the fall of communism, no Russian nationals had been appointed Catholic bishops before now.
The appointment of Fr Dubinin is seen as an important step in the spiritual renewal of the country’s 700,000-strong Catholic community, which has a small but significant presence across the country’s vast terrain.
The new bishop was born over a thousand kilometres from Moscow in the Southern Russian mining city of Novoshakhtinsk on May 27, 1973.
In 1993, he became one of the first seminarians at the Moscow major seminary, where his cohort’s prayerful actions were instrumental in returning the city’s Catholic cathedral to religious use in the 1990s.
He then joined the Conventual Franciscans: the same order as his seminary tutor, Fr Grzegorz Cioroch, a Polish missionary who had been one of first to serve in Russia in the post-Soviet era.
Dubinin went on to receive further priestly formation from the Franciscan friars in Poland, with whom he made his solemn profession on October 3, 1998, before being ordained to the priesthood on June 24, 2000.
He then lived for a number of years in Italy, where he undertook research at the Pastoral Liturgy Institute of Santa Giustina in Padua, whilst also pastoring to a number of parishes entrusted to the Conventual Franciscans.
In 2004, Fr Grzegorz Cioroch died aged 42 in a car accident on his way from Poland to Russia. Fr Dubinin proceeded to continue the work of his mentor.
In 2005, he took on Fr Cioroch’s former role as custodian of the Franciscan Province of Russia in 2005. Then in 2008 he was appointed deputy editor of the Russian Catholic Encyclopaedia, which Fr Grzegorz Cioroch had previously established. The same year, Fr Dubinin became a professor at the Major Catholic Seminary of Mary Queen of Apostles in St Petersburg, a post he has held to this day.
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