Return to religious use
The glasnost (openness) policy, introduced during the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, played a major role in developing religious freedom in the Soviet Union. Consequently, in 1989, a group of Moscow Catholics and the cultural association “The Polish House” (Russian: Дом Польский), suggested that the building should again be used for religious purposes. Following the city’s assent, the first Mass at the site in 60 years was celebrated on the church stairs during the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1990. The Mass was celebrated by the Polish priest Tadeusz Pikus, who later became an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Warsaw.
In January 1990, a group of Catholics in Moscow formally founded the parish of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin Mary. On 13 April 1991 Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical Providi quae, establishing the “Apostolic administration for European Russia”. Its apostolic administrator, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, issued a decree for the reconstruction of the church on 21 April 1991. With the city’s permission, on the Polish National Day (3 May) a second Mass was held, again on the stairs. The constitution of the parish was officially acknowledged on 31 May by the department of justice of the city council. Meanwhile, parts of the church were subleased by Mosspetspromproyekt to various companies.
From 7 June 1991, Masses were celebrated each Sunday in the churchyard—the institute still occupied the building. On 15 July 1991, Father Josef Sanewski, a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, was appointed the new parish priest. Religious education had been given regularly under the direction of the Salesian Sisters since 29 November 1991. At the same time, the first charities were founded for nursing and aid to the poor. The vice-mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, signed a decree in favour of the Church on 1 February 1992 ordering the institute to vacate the property by 1994. Parish members entered the building on 2 July 1992, and occupied the institute’s workshop. Moscow City Council agreed to allow the church to occupy the space, which was subsequently walled off from the remainder of the building. There, in the former workshop, Mass was celebrated regularly.
The building before the renovation (mid-1990s). The banner reads: “Give us back the church!” (Верните нам храм!)
The dividing wall was removed by parish members on 7 March 1995, while others started clearing the truss. The institute called the police, OMON, for help. The following day, more conflict with the police occurred and several parish members, among them a nun, were injured. Others were arrested, including a priest and a seminarian, but were released the next day. After these events, the Apostolic Administrator, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, wrote an open letter to the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, on 9 March 1995, requesting his intervention: “It seems that persecution of the church was history. Is that the case? I can’t remember seeing a priest arrested, and I can’t remember seeing a nun beaten up.”
As a result, Senior Moscow Mayor Yuri Lushkov, a Yeltsin appointee, signed a decision for the removal of the institute. The decision, dated 7 March 1995, ordered the institute’s departure by 1996. Simultaneously, the institute wrote to Lushkov describing the earlier events from their perspective, and requested compensation for loss of the building. In a meeting with the Polish Ambassador, Stanisław Ciosek, on 15 March 1995, the acting mayor of Moscow, Alexander Musykantski, assured him that the return of the church would be complete by the end of the year.
On 19 March 1995, a Mass was celebrated in the reclaimed part of the church under the direction of Papal Nuncio John Bukowski, who delivered Pope John Paul II’s blessing to the parish. In a new decision dated 2 November 1995, Lushkov ordered Mosspetspromproyekt to leave the building by the end of the year at the latest. When the order was still not implemented, parish members entered the institute on 2 January 1996 and began the removal. Institute director Evgeny Afanasyev called the police once again, but on this occasion, they declined to intervene. Subsequently, the institute director asked the parish priest for a final extension of the removal date by two weeks – Mosspetspromproyekt vacated the building on 13 January 1996. On 2 February 1996, the Archdiocese of Mother of God at Moscow obtained official permission to use the church indefinitely.