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.
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.”
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.