Catholics are Fleeing Russia in the Face of Forced Military Conscription

A Russian priest has said that many young Catholics and clergy now fear being forcibly conscripted to go to war against Ukraine.

Newsroom (28/09/2022 12:30 PM, Gaudium Press) Street protests broke out in Russia after Putin ordered a nationwide call-up of 300,000 reservists on 21 September, following setbacks in the war against Ukraine.

In his speech, Putin said his “special military operation” continues to liberate Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region from a “neo-Nazi regime,” adding that Russia will use “all means at its disposal,” including nuclear weapons, to resist Western countries’ attempts to “weaken, divide and ultimately destroy” it while aggressively imposing “their will and pseudo-values.”

He added that the partial mobilization would initially involve “only military reservists” with “specific occupational specialties and corresponding experience” who would receive additional training for active service.

“Although I am not military, I do not think the Russian army can use nuclear weapons – and if it did, that would be far more dangerous for Russia itself than anyone else,” said the priest, who asked not to be identified.

People are certainly scared here, especially since Catholic parishioners and clergy can now be drafted, starting with those who have done military service. But I do not think there is much to fear from Putin, they are just words.”

The priest, in an interview with Catholic News Service, reported that students and young people have “reacted very emotionally” to the mobilization order, with many debating its practical consequences. “Some young Catholics have already left the country, and others are doing the same now.”

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He added that Russia’s minority churches have not been consulted and that he has spoken with lawyers about the implications of Putin’s order in relation to the Catholic Church.

The mass mobilization will greatly affect the life of the Church here, mainly because many Catholics are strongly against the war and do not want to take part in it. But those up to the age of 50, with military training, should go; however, the order may soon be extended to others who have not even done military service.”

According to the priest, “Catholics themselves are divided, with about 20% supporting the war, 40% categorically against it, and another 40% watching to see what happens, especially if things get worse and their own family members are killed.”

Western governments criticized the mobilization and Russians held demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities. Human rights groups reported on 21 September that more than 1,300 protesters were arrested.

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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