The Catholic diocese of Saint Clement is based in the city of Saratov, on the River Volga in southern Russia, around 500 miles (800+ km) southeast of Moscow. The Catholic faithful of the diocese eagerly look forward the visits of their priests, given that they are few in number (barely 20,000) and scattered across a vast area of nearly 550,000 square miles (1.4 million km²), or almost twice the size of France. Often the local community consists of no more than a tiny handful of the faithful, sometimes just a single Catholic family.
Needless to say, the priests have to cover vast distances in order to minister to the Catholic faithful. This is fundamental to the survival of the Catholic presence in the region, since where there is no priest, there are no sacraments, and over time the sense of connection with the Church can dwindle and the fervour of the faith fade away, especially among the younger people, who live among their peers and see them living, seemingly happily, without God or the Church. But this in turn can become a vicious circle, where the faith begins to fade, and with it vocations to the religious life. So then there are fewer priests and the level of pastoral care dwindles as a result, leading more and more people to drift away from the faith and the soil of home-grown vocations to shrink still further. To this day most of the priests in the diocese are from abroad.
Hence these pastoral journeys are essential, but the fuel costs are heavy. So ACN is helping to subsidise these costs, so that the Catholic faithful will not be left without their priests. This is an ongoing form of support, and this year we are giving 15,000 Euros.