From 18 to 25 January, the Christian churches have been observing the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been working to further the dialogue between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches for 25 years. The director of the foundation’s British national office describes a new joint initiative in Stavropol that assists women with pregnancy conflicts and in other emergency situations with the support of Aid to the Church in Need.
Aid to the Church in Need is helping vulnerable women and their unborn children in Russia – fulfilling Church teaching that each and every human life has inherent dignity. Remembering that Christ reached out to those in distress irrespective of their need or status, Russia’s Catholic and Orthodox Churches are helping up to 42 destitute women and their families with accommodation until they find a stable address.
The National Director of ACN’s UK Office Neville Kyrke-Smith described the charity’s help for this ecumenical project. During his autumn visit, Mr Kyrke-Smith joined with His Eminence Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Stavropol and Nevinnomysk to open a shelter for young mothers in Stavropol – a town whose name means City of the Cross. The dignitaries met with those families receiving practical assistance, including a Muslim family in need. Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “This project is absolutely vital, as it supports pregnant women who are often left without any assistance from their families. The centre was founded by the Orthodox Church – and we are delighted to be able to support this important ecumenical project, helping women in a very difficult situation.” ACN has given more than £20,000 to the centre’s sheltered accommodation, offering alternatives to abortion. It also supports women with telephone counseling, advice and information. Thanking the charity’s supporters Metropolitan Kirill told Mr Kyrke-Smith: “Thank you and may God bless our dear friends at Aid to the Church in Need. We pray for them.”
Members of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches attended the international protection of life seminar held by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2017. The seminar developed the call to “respect the inalienable right to life” in Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill’s joint declaration. ACN’s Russia expert Peter Humeniuk described the conference as taking “concrete steps in the spirit of ecumenism. The seminar focused on analysing the situation, but also – and particularly – on finding solutions.” Delegates meet with a Catholic group from Milan that offers pregnancy counseling and has already saved almost 20,000 children. Speaking of the impact of abortion on Russia’s population as well as its global effect, Mr Humeniuk said: “Unfortunately, abortion is very prevalent in Russia. This can be traced back to Soviet times… the Russian people are beginning to become aware of this problem, because if nothing else, the demographic development in Russia… and that of the Western world – has now become a wake-up call for many people.”
ACN is also supporting other projects in Russia that reflect the hope of Jesus Christ’s message of healing for all people suffering difficulties and hardships: including an intensive year-long drug rehabilitation course using with success rates as high as 80 percent. And a new chapel in Stavropol – previously the Catholic community gathered in a farmer’s workshop. Fr Mitrzak is the first Catholic priest residing permanently there since the Revolution – and Metropolitan Kyrill is helping the chapel with registration requirements.
Speaking of the charity’s work helping vulnerable people Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “We are greatly encouraged by the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches cooperation, particularly on social projects and protecting the right to family and life. ACN is inspired by our Saviour’s own words ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ [Matt 25:40] developing initiatives between churches helping Christ’s body – our brothers and sisters in need.”