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.
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.