Gorbachev asks friars for literature to help understand theology of St. Francis
Sunday 23 March 2008
By Michael Ireland
Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who many religious pundits considered might have been the Antichrist because of a birthmark on his forehead and his charismatic personality, has openly professed his faith as a Christian believer.
According to Richard Owen of The Times of London newspaper in Rome Franciscan friars at Assisi have confirmed that Gorbachev, the last Soviet President, is a Christian after he was seen praying at the tomb of St Francis.
Owen says that Mr Gorbachev has long acknowledged that he was influenced by his grandmother, an Orthodox believer and is a regular participant in peace conferences in the Umbrian town where St Francis is buried. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has also turned to Orthodox Christianity and wears a cross round his neck, Owen reports.
Owen says that Father Miroslavo Anuskevic, a Lithuanian priest at the Basilica of St Francis, said he had spotted Mr Gorbachev — for years a professed Communist atheist — praying anonymously “in silent meditation” for half an hour at the tomb of St Francis “with very Oriental intensity” with his eyes closed, alongside his daughter Irina.
President Reagan is said to have often wondered whether the Soviet Union’s last leader was a “closet Christian,” observing to aides at one point during a US-Soviet summit “I think he believes.” Mr Gorbachev’s parents reportedly kept Orthodox icons hidden behind pictures of Stalin and Lenin, as did the parents of his late wife, Raisa, who were reportedly executed for the offence.
Owen writes that Father Anuskevic told the Italian La Stampa newspaper Mr Gorbachev had observed to him that “St Francis is for me the other Christ. His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life...It was through St Francis that I came to the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb. I feel very emotional to be in a place which is so important not only for the Catholic faith but for all humanity.”
Mr Gorbachev talked at length about his humanitarian and charitable work, Father Anuskevic said. He had also spoken about about Russia “and how important it is for the world that the transition to democracy, although painful for Russia, must endure.” He had said that Russia was “a country of great spirituality,” and had stressed the need to protect the Earth’s environment as God’s creation.
The Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore in Rome also said that Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.
Accompanied by his daughter Irina, Mr Gorbachev spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb. His arrival in Assisi was described as “spiritual perestroika” by La Stampa, the Italian newspaper.
“St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ,” said Mr Gorbachev. “His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life,” he added.
Mr Gorbachev’s surprise visit confirmed decades of rumors that, although he was forced to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a new light.
Mr Gorbachev, 77, was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians. In addition, the parents of his wife Raisa were deeply religious and were killed during the Second World War for having religious icons in their home.
Ronald Reagan, the former United States president, allegedly told his close aides on a number of occasions that he felt his opponent during the Cold War was a “closet believer.”
Mr Reagan held deep religious convictions himself. However, until now Mr Gorbachev has allowed himself to express only pantheistic views, saying in one interview “nature is my god.”
After his prayers, Mr Gorbachev toured the Basilica of St Francis and asked in particular to be shown an icon of St Francis portraying his “dream at Spoleto.”
St Francis, who lived in the 12th century, was a troubadour and a poet before the spiritual vision caused him to return to Assisi and contemplate a religious life.
“It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb,” said Mr Gorbachev. “I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity.”
He also asked the monks for theological books to help him understand St Francis’s life, Moore reported.
Father Miroslavo Anuskevic, who accompanied the former Soviet leader, said: “He was not recognized by any of the worshippers in the church, and silently meditated at the tomb for a while. He seemed a man deeply inspired by charity, and told me that he was involved in a project to help children with cancer.”He talked a lot about Russia and said that even though the transition to democracy had been very important for the world, it was very painful for Russia. He said it was a country which has a great history, and also a great spirituality.“Luke Harding, writing in The Guardian newspaper, said:”He was the leader of the world’s last atheist super-power. And during his time as general secretary of the communist party, God wasn’t supposed to exist. But this week Mikhail Gorbachev — the man who presided over the demise of the Soviet Union — has revealed himself as a believer.“Harding says that on a trip to Italy, Gorbachev paid a surprise visit to the tomb of St Francis of Assisi, where, with his daughter Irina, he spent half an hour meditating. Afterwards, he declared that the saint’s story had played a”fundamental“role in his life.”It was through St Francis that I arrived at the church, so it was important that I came to visit," he added.
Harding says Gorbachev’s comments reveal the tantalizing gap between public and private attitudes in Soviet family life.
He writes: “Like many children of the Stalin era, he was secretly baptized, by his grandparents. But during his career in the communist party he was — in public, at least — an atheist. Rumors of his religious inclinations have swirled since his 1989 meeting with Pope John Paul II; even his cold war adversary Ronald Reagan reportedly told aides that he felt Gorbachev was a ’closet believer.’”
Harding continues: “Yesterday, however, a spokesman quashed suggestions that Gorbachev was a card-carrying Christian. Describing his visit to Italy as ’personal.’ He said: ’He is a member of the Russian Orthodox church. But he is not a regular churchgoer.’ Russian church leaders were also unimpressed. A spokesman for Russia’s Orthodox patriarch Alexey II said Gorbachev had a long way to go before his faith could be taken seriously. ’In Italy he spoke in emotional terms, rather than in terms of faith. He is still on his way to Christianity. If he arrives, we will welcome him.’”
At 77, Gorbachev is the most senior ex-communist leader to show an interest in God, Harding says. But these days other Russian leaders believe in Him too. Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB colonel, is also a churchgoer. His presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, is also a member of the Orthodox chuch.
“It seems that God is returning the favor,” Harding writes, adding: “Last month Alexey II hinted strongly that he had voted for Medvedev in Russia’s presidential election.”
Religious websites, such as http://www.christiantoday.com/ also report that Gorbachev admitted publicly for the first time on Wednesday that he is a Christian.
The site says that rumors had circulated for decades that Gorbachev was a “closet Christian,” but it was only confirmed when he made a surprise visit with his daughter Irina to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi in Italy this week. The former communist leader spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.
Christians make up about 17 to 22 per cent of Russia’s population, according to the CIA World Factbook.
ChristianToday.com says that Russia is considered one of the least religious countries in Europe, with only 50 per cent of its people saying they are religious and only seven per cent describing themselves as highly religious, according to a major study on faith, conducted by German think tank the Bertelsmann Foundation, released in December.
© Assist News Service
*Note*I slightly abridged this article where it repeated itself. Go to "SOURCE" to read entire article.