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Letting Nuns Be Is A Just Solution

San Mateo County Times - April 1, 2004

NIMBLE is not the first word that pops to mind to describe a convent of 80- and 90-year-old nuns. But nimble is exactly what the nuns of the "Our Lady of Vladimir" convent have had to be to survive numerous threats and challenges through the past 80 years. This week the nuns reached an out-of-court settlement with their former church, which was seeking to take control of the Vladimir convent property in Moss Beach.

We are pleased to see that all parties found enough compassion to back away from litigation and reach an amicable agreement that permits the nuns to stay on their land for seven more years.

The saga of the Vladimir nuns begins in pre-revolutionary Russia. Fearing religious persecution, they fled their homeland in the 1920s. They then settled in China only to again confront religious intolerance. Following Mao Tse-tung's 1949 victory in China, the nuns sought refuge in San Francisco, but landed in a seedy, crime-ridden part of the Mission District.

By the 1990s, the sisters found the peace they had sought through most of the 20th century in San Mateo County. But even then, the Midpeninsula Open Space District tried to annex their land through eminent domain. Although that bid was dropped, the nuns moved to their current location in Moss Beach.

After the fall of communism in Soviet Russia, the nuns broke away from their church -- the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, or ROCOR -- when it moved to reconcile with Moscow's religious authorities. Not long ago, ROCOR filed a civil suit against the nuns -- most of whom are in their late 80s or early 90s -- to assume control of the Moss Beach convent.

We applaud efforts on both sides to keep the case from escalating. The out-of-court settlement gives ROCOR what is justly theirs, according to Russian religious doctrine. Yet it humanely recognized the need to accommodate the Vladimir nuns while they find and settle in a new location. The dignified arrangement helps restore our faith in attorneys like ROCOR's lawyer Todd Roberts and Vladimir nuns lawyer Michael Bassi, who recognized the need to keep this out of the courts.