A delegation from the Moscow Patriarchate visited the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need over the last few days to discuss further joint aid campaigns in the Middle East.

 On 16 and 17 July, a delegation from the Moscow Patriarchate visited the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The subject under discussion was the development of further joint projects in Syria and Iraq in response to the appeal made by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill to their Churches in February 2016 during their historic meeting in Havana. At the heart of their message was, among other things, the collaboration between the two Churches to help Christians in need and particularly those in the Middle East.

On 16 and 17 July, a delegation from the Moscow Patriarchate visited the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

On 16 and 17 July, a delegation from the Moscow Patriarchate visited the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The delegation from Moscow was made up of Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Hieromonk Ioann (Kopeikin), pro-rector of Saints Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate Studies in Moscow and Ekaterina Myazdrikova, director of the Moscow Patriarchate’s relief fund “Poznanie”, which helps Syrian children seriously injured during explosions.

The pontifical foundation ACN, which has been working to further the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church for more than 25 years, launched the first initiatives for Christians in the Middle East together with the Moscow Patriarchate immediately after the meeting of the two Church leaders. The collaboration in this area is to be developed even further now. In this context, Regina Lynch, director of projects at ACN, emphasised that the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches had “many joint concerns, the most painful of these being the concern for the Christians in the Middle East and in other countries where Christians are persecuted or oppressed.”

Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov) emphasised that this collaboration is possible because of the “good and productive relationship with ACN, which has existed for many years” and is based on “genuine trust”. He said, “We are not only partners, but friends.” He furthermore pointed out that ACN supported the Moscow Patriarchate in “various stages of its history” but that the possibility of “carrying out joint projects also in other parts of the world was never discussed before.”

Cuba, Havanna: 12. February 2016: Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia signing their Joint declaration.

Cuba, Havanna: 12. February 2016: Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia signing their Joint declaration.

He believes that, after the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana, the collaboration “reached a new phase”. According to Hieromonk Igumnov, it was “a God-given miracle that we were already in a position to answer the call of our Church leaders two months after their meeting in Havana and take action in Syria.”

Discussions of joint projects will continue. Plans are in place for joint initiatives that serve to give young people in Syria and Iraq a future irrespective of their religious denomination. These joint projects are to be “the direct fruit of the meeting between pope and patriarch”, as the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the ACN foundation declared.

The port town of Magadan in the Far East of Siberia was first established in 1929 as a concentration camp. During Soviet times it was the principal centre of the labour camp system of the Kolyma region and the port of entry for hundreds of thousands of deported victims. Right up to 1991 the area was a strict military exclusion zone. Today the town of Magadan has a population of around 96,000. The direct distance between Magadan and Moscow is around 6000 km (3750 miles) and the time difference between them is no less than eight hours!

The Catholic parish of the Nativity of Christ in Magadan was established in 1990, shortly before the end of the Soviet Union. It was one of the first Catholic parishes in the whole of Russia‘s Far East. Initially the Catholic faithful met together in a private home. The present parish church was completed in the year 2002.

Ever since 1994 Father Michael Shields, an Alaskan priest of the congregation of the Sacred Heart Brothers, has been parish priest of this extremely active community. There are catechetical sessions for all ages, and especially for children and young people, who represent the future of the Church. The children spend a lot of time in the church, since the climate is so harsh and cold that they cannot spend much time playing outside. Polish sisters of the Divine Mercy congregation also work in the parish, running children‘s and youth groups and organising Catholic holiday camps for the children in all the school holidays, aptly named „Holidays with God“. And there is a very lively prayer group which meets above all to pray the Rosary.

Now however, after almost 20 years, the parish church of the Nativity is in need of serious renovation work. ACN has promised to help with 30,000 Euros.

Now however, after almost 20 years, the parish church of the Nativity is in need of serious renovation work. ACN has promised to help with 30,000 Euros.

Father Michael has also established an initiative for helping pregnant women and girls in conflict situations and encouraging them to keep their baby rather than aborting it. Over a hundred children have already been saved so far in this way. And the parish likewise cares for women who have already had abortions and now come seeking inner healing and reconciliation. Some of the women even come here from other towns, seeking help. In addition to this there is a parish-run spiritual and therapeutic outreach programme for those with problems of addiction, especially alcoholism and drug addiction. Today many former addicts have since become active members of the parish.

Father Michael also ministers to former prisoners of the gulags, and has actually produced a book in Russian with their life testimonies. Many of these by now very elderly people have spoken in it for the first time about the fate they suffered. In many cases even their own families had until then known almost nothing about it.

Now however, after almost 20 years, the parish church of the Nativity is in need of serious renovation work. ACN has promised to help with 30,000 Euros.

 Code: 427-01-19

 

Psychological illnesses are on the increase all over the world and have today overtaken such diseases as cancer and cardiovascular illnesses in terms of sheer numbers. At 13% of the total, they now exceed all other medical conditions, and are frequently described as a „worldwide epidemic“ today.

This development also represents a challenge for the pastoral care of the Church. Accordingly, in November 2018, in Moscow, Catholic and Orthodox experts and Church representatives met together to exchange ideas and experiences and identify and discover ways of better ministering pastorally to the psychologically sick and their families. The conference participants – all top-class specialists – included delegates from Russia, Germany, Greece, the United States, Spain and a number of Eastern European countries.

Russia: Support for an ecumenical conference in Moscow on the pastoral care of the psychologically sick .

Russia: Support for an ecumenical conference in Moscow on the pastoral care of the psychologically sick.

Among the questions discussed were such things as: „What particular religious kinds on outlook can have a positive or negative influence on psychological sicknesses?“, „What role do the Sacraments of Confession, Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick play in the care of those suffering psychological illnesses?“, „How can the pastoral care of those at risk of suicide best be shaped?“, „What kinds of psychotherapy can be identified as potentially incompatible with the Christian Faith?“, „How can a fruitful collaboration be established between doctors and priests?“, „How is one to distinguish between psychological sickness and phenomena related to spiritual oppression/possession?“ Another important issue discussed was how to provide improved training for priests and seminarians in the sphere of pastoral psychiatry.

As with a number of other initiatives where Catholics and Orthodox are working together in Russia, this conference too was a fruit of the work of a Catholic – Orthodox working group, sponsored by ACN. In the wake of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in February 2016, our charity, which has already been involved for over a quarter of a century in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in Russia, has been seeking new and ever deeper ways of ecumenical collaboration. The working party set up to this end has already organised a number of different gatherings on a variety of themes, in addition to this conference on the psychologically sick – for example on the protection of unborn life and on the pastoral care of addicts.

in November 2018, in Moscow, Catholic and Orthodox experts and Church representatives met together to exchange ideas and experiences and identify and discover ways of better ministering pastorally to the psychologically sick.

in November 2018, in Moscow, Catholic and Orthodox experts and Church representatives met together to exchange ideas and experiences and identify and discover ways of better ministering pastorally to the psychologically sick.

The long-term objective of all these initiatives is for Catholic and Orthodox Christians to work together to seek solutions for some of the most pressing challenges of the present day, sharing their energies and experience, on the one hand in order to be to work more effectively and give practical help to those in need, and on the other to give powerful witness of brotherly friendship between our two sister Churches. ACN supported this conference in Moscow with a contribution of 14,000 Euros was actively involved in its realization.

Code: 427-00-49

The port town of Magadan in the Far East of Siberia was first established in 1929 as a concentration camp. During Soviet times it was the principal centre of the labour camp system of the Kolyma region and the port of entry for hundreds of thousands of deported victims. Right up to 1991 the area was a strict military exclusion zone. Today the town of Magadan has a population of around 96,000. The direct distance between Magadan and Moscow is around 6000 km (3750 miles) and the time difference between them is no less than eight hours!

The Catholic parish of the Nativity of Christ in Magadan was established in 1990, shortly before the end of the Soviet Union. It was one of the first Catholic parishes in the whole of Russia‘s Far East. Initially the Catholic faithful met together in a private home. The present parish church was completed in the year 2002.

The Catholic parish of the Nativity of Christ in Magadan was established in 1990.

The Catholic parish of the Nativity of Christ in Magadan was established in 1990.

Ever since 1994 Father Michael Shields, an Alaskan priest of the congregation of the Sacred Heart Brothers, has been parish priest of this extremely active community. There are catechetical sessions for all ages, and especially for children and young people, who represent the future of the Church. The children spend a lot of time in the church, since the climate is so harsh and cold that they cannot spend much time playing outside. Polish sisters of the Divine Mercy congregation also work in the parish, running children‘s and youth groups and organising Catholic holiday camps for the children in all the school holidays, aptly named „Holidays with God“. And there is a very lively prayer group which meets above all to pray the Rosary.

Father Michael has also established an initiative for helping pregnant women and girls in conflict situations and encouraging them to keep their baby rather than aborting it. Over a hundred children have already been saved so far in this way. And the parish likewise cares for women who have already had abortions and now come seeking inner healing and reconciliation. Some of the women even come here from other towns, seeking help. In addition to this there is a parish-run spiritual and therapeutic outreach programme for those with problems of addiction, especially alcoholism and drug addiction. Today many former addicts have since become active members of the parish.

The present parish church was completed in the year 2002.

The present parish church was completed in the year 2002.

Father Michael also ministers to former prisoners of the gulags, and has actually produced a book in Russian with their life testimonies. Many of these by now very elderly people have spoken in it for the first time about the fate they suffered. In many cases even their own families had until then known almost nothing about it.

Now however, after almost 20 years, the parish church of the Nativity is in need of serious renovation work. ACN has promised to help with 30,000 Euros.

 Code: 427-01-19

According to Pope Francis, a priestly vocation is like a “diamond in the rough”, which needs to be “carefully polished with respect for the conscience of the candidates and with patience, so that they may shine among the People of God”. In the seminary of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Saint Petersburg, Russia there are six of these “rough diamonds”. One of them has come almost from the ends of the earth – from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east of Siberia, some 11 hours away by plane. Kamchatka belongs to the diocese of Irkutsk. Yevgeni studied tourism, and it was as a tour guide that he met a Catholic priest who became “an example for my life”. Later, in the army, he saw how many soldiers had lost all inner peace and were deprived of spiritual nourishment. He prayed with them, as he had learnt from his priest friend: the Our Father, the Rosary, the Creed. He felt God was calling him. “I could have done every possible thing in the Church”, he says, “but there is one thing that only the priest can do, namely forgive sins in the name of Christ and make Christ truly present in Holy Mass.” This is what he felt called to do. “By the grace of God, I am now the only seminarian from the largest diocese in the world”, he says. Gregor also felt the call. He was an electrical engineer and loved to party.

Proto-Cathedral; it is alongside the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Apostles Seminary St. Petersburg.

Proto-Cathedral; it is alongside the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Apostles Seminary St. Petersburg.

One morning, after a night’s heavy drinking, he was sitting on the bus, bleary-eyed and late for work – and worried that he would be fired for being late. Then he remembered his Bible, opened it and read: “… from now on you will be catching men…, they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:10-11). But Gregor still hesitated, wanting to see a sign. A mishap atwork meant that his late arrival went unnoticed in the chaos. He took this as a sign and soon afterwards, Gregor was on his way to Saint Petersburg. Each of the six seminarians has his own story to tell, as have the six men who are preparing for the permanent diaconate. They all represent the latest chapter in a greater story, that of the seminary itself. Founded in 1879, and confiscated by the Bolsheviks in 1918, for decades it was used by Communists as an administrative building, then finally it was returned in a dilapidated state to the Catholic Church after the end of the Soviet Union by a decree signed by the then vice mayor, Vladimir Putin. It is more than a seminary, it is a place of profound symbolic importance, a historical treasure.

Celebrations on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the seminary "Mariya Tsaritsa Apostolov" in St. Petersburg in November 2018.

Celebrations on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the seminary “Mariya Tsaritsa Apostolov” in St. Petersburg in November 2018.

700 priests have passed through its doors, many died as martyrs, two have been proclaimed saints. Since it reopened in 1993, 64 priests have been ordained. A seminary is the heart of the diocese, as then Apostolic Adminstrator of Moscow, Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz once said, “This seminary is the heart of the Catholic Church in Russia.” In short, it is a treasure in need of renovation. We are contributing towards the cost, which will run into millions. We have also assumed the running costs of €79,000 per year for the entire complex. But they will decrease once the pilgrim house they are setting up opens its doors. “Mariya Tsaritsa Apostolov” – Mary, Queen of Apostles – is a symbol of religious freedom and the eternal youth of the Church. As Pope John Paul II said, it symbolises “the Springtime that blossoms from the hand of Providence”.

It would be hard to give a clearer illustration of the universal character of the Church than this: two Nigerian religious Sisters from the Poor Clare Missionaries of the Most Blessed Sacrament – which was founded in Mexico – are travelling to the Diocese of Saratov in Russia to help with pastoral and catechetical work under the direction of Bishop Clemens Pickel, from Germany.

But first of all Anastesia Ndubuisi and Cordelia Enwereuzo must learn Russian. “They are making progress”, says Bishop Clemens Pickel, who recalls how shocked the two women were when they saw the mist and snow for the first time. His diocese is something of a melting pot of cultures. Most of the 61 religious Sisters, who belong to different congregations, come from abroad – “anywhere from Argentina to the Philippines” – including a good number from Poland.

Part of the melting pot of Saratov: Bishop Clemens Pickel with his international team of religious Sisters.

Part of the melting pot of Saratov: Bishop Clemens Pickel with his international team of religious Sisters.

A few are from Russia itself; many of these experienced life in the underground Church, under communist dictatorship, but for the younger Russian women “the radical decision for Christ had nothing to do with any tradition in their families. There was nothing of that; merely the call of God and an open heart.” “They are very versatile”, says Bishop Clemens with evident admiration. “Whether in catechesis, with the children and young people, visiting the sick, caring for the elderly or helping in the sacristy. I can sense at once if Mass has been prepared by one of the Sisters. It takes a real effort to achieve this kind of devotion to Christ in the little things.”

Sister Maria Šalaboda.

Sister Maria Šalaboda.

In fact, without the help of these foreign Sisters this diocese, one of the largest in the world, would not be able to function. There is a great deal of travelling involved, since the 20,000 or so Catholics account for just 0.04% of the 45 million people living in the diocese. For these and the many other Christians Anastesia and Cordelia have been learning Russian. But they have no way to pay for their language tuition (€3,000) or, like the other Sisters, even support themselves in the country. “We call it ‘existence help’, and with good reason”, says Bishop Clemens, thoughtfully. For it really is about the very existence of the diocese itself. We are helping with €35,000.

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ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.