Working for reconciliation and the New Evangelisation Part 2
The International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting Christians in Russia for years
By Julia Blunck
......Continued from Part 1
The continuing rise in the number of the Catholic faithful brings with it the need to construct new churches and pastoral centres. Our Charity decided to help the administration for East Siberia, with its 50,000 Catholics, to establish their own cathedral and pastoral centre in Irkutsk. Since the communists had confiscated the former Catholic church in Irkutsk and turned it into a concert hall, a start was made in 1999 on a cathedral, dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In September 2000 this cathedral was finally consecrated.
“Since the now vital task of re-evangelising Russia falls within the time-honoured sphere of our Orthodox sister Church, our programme was again extended in 1993 to include help for the Orthodox Church - a new dimension of our work and at the same time a sign of selfless love and a path towards reconciliation,” writes Father Werenfried in his Spiritual Guidelines, which serve as the guiding text for all our staff in their daily work. The first journey by Father Werenfried to Russia was in 1992, at the invitation of the Patriarch of Moscow, and was undertaken under the threefold banner of prayer, reconciliation and aid. This journey took him to Novgorod, St Petersburg and Moscow. Patriarch Alexey II, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia welcomed the founder of Aid to the Church in Need in his Moscow residence for a meeting of one and a half hours. The patriarch listened while Father Werenfried described to him the nature of our charity and he gratefully accepted the help offered by Father Werenfried in the area of catechesis and the media. Both men also agreed that the much publicised tensions between our two Churches could be overcome by prayer and mutual respect. Since this meeting our charity has supported numerous projects of the Orthodox Church. Right at the beginning Father Werenfried proposed the idea of helping all Orthodox priests with a yearly basic support. In a few instances this help was indeed given; however, at the request of the bishops, this aid was soon directed towards other areas. First and foremost our aid is concentrated on the training of priests. But we also give grants to some of the eparchies and missionary projects. Just as with all the projects of the Catholic Church, so too with the Orthodox ones, the approval of the relevant bishop is required for all projects.
One particularly interesting project is the "chapel boat" - an idea of Metropolitan German of Volgograd, who has to minister to over 4 million people in his vast eparchy of 114,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles). Most of the villages and towns lie strung like a string of beads along the banks of the Volga and Don rivers. There are almost no churches still standing here, since they were all destroyed during the communist era - especially during the battle of Stalingrad. Hence, Metropolitan German came upon the original and bold idea of bringing the church to the people rather than the people to the church. He saw this as the only way of advancing the urgent task of the new evangelisation in these regions over the long term. During the ice-free months, from April to October, the chapel ship serves these communities as a floating church and pastoral centre. Since 1998 the people living along these banks have had the opportunity to attend the sacred Liturgy and receive the sacraments. Some of them have never seen a church in their lives. The chapel, with its altar and iconostasis, is built on a raft-like ship that is towed by a tug. In addition to the captain and crew there is also a priest, a deacon and sometimes a choir of seminarians. During the first summer, in the space of four months, the ship was able to visit almost 30 different settlements. Over the winter it remains moored up about one hour's drive from Volgograd in a small bay. The people living close by have now begun to build a stone church. Now that they have come to know what it means to celebrate the Liturgy together and experience the communion in the Faith, they no longer wish to say goodbye to their church each spring. Only recently Metropolitan German blessed the foundation stone of this church. The great yearning of the people for the word of God has made it imperative to build a second chapel boat. Aid to the Church in Need has once again supported the metropolitan for this project. And a third Volga boat, currently still under construction, should make it possible for every village in this region to hear the Gospel, and the sound of the bells, at least once a year.
Now, as in the past, the shortage of well-trained priests and catechists is one of the principal needs of the Orthodox Church. Hence, last year, we supported the studies of Russian seminarians and various other training programme at Russian seminaries and spiritual schools. Especially in these times of financial and political crisis, such establishments urgently need financial help in order to sustain their activities.
The aid provided by ACN to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Russia over the past 10 years runs to a total of some 26 million euros - our contribution to easing the great need of the Russian people and to promoting reconciliation between our two Churches. Our aid for the year 2000 was divided as follows: 51.9 percent of our total budget for Russia was given to the Catholic Church and 48.1% to the Orthodox Church for their projects. Over the past years we have also been able to promote numerous interdenominational projects, among them the Spiritual Library (Dukhovnaya Biblioteka) - a centre for the distribution of religious literature - and the Christian Channel in Moscow - a Catholic / Orthodox radio station which began broadcasting in June 1995 in the Moscow area. The Catholic broadcasts are transmitted under the name Dar ("gift)". This Christian radio station is unique in that Catholics and Orthodox are uniting their energies in a spirit of mutual respect in the common task of evangelisation. We have also continued to help the Moscow news agency Blagovest-Info (www.blagovest-media.de), whose religious news items can, since recently, now also be accessed by e-mail, and we have supported interdenominational conferences such as the youth conference held in May 2001 in Moscow ("I am with you all days until the end of the world - Christianity in the 21st century"). It was organised by members of the Christian Interconfessional Consultative Committee. Its aim was to provide an opportunity for young people of different confessions to meet and get to know one another and work together.
Although we are active in many countries around the globe, our aid for the Catholic Church and also for our Orthodox Sister Church in Russia continues to be of great importance. From the beginning the intention of our charity was to make the love of Christ for his Church take human shape by buildings a bridge between our benefactors in the West and the Christians in the East. And we are still continuing unswervingly along this road of active love as we strive to give comfort and hope to the people in Russia. We are united in prayer and in faith with our Russian brothers and sisters.
Photo: Since May 1998 the first chapel boat has travelled around 1,000 kilometres along the rivers Volga and Don and brought spiritual sustenance to the people of this region.