The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 1, 2000 Issue

Recent events show that promises are coming true

Conversion of Russia is beginning to occur and we all can help it to happen

Fr. Ray Conard

To have offered Mass a few month ago in the Chapel of the Apparitions at Fatima was to realize a dream. And it was so few days before our Holy Father revealed the third secret confided to the children, which had to do with the nearly successful attempt on his life on May 13, 1981. Truly, we are living extraordinary pages of salvation history, seeing the almost totally peaceful collapse of European communism in a matter of months. Our Blessed Mother spoke of the "errors" that Russia would propagate throughout the world. Another part of the message, the return, the conversion of Russia, has yet to be realized.

We as Roman Catholics understand this as the healing of the rupture of the unity of the Catholic Church that took place 1,000 years ago between Constantinople and Rome, between East and West. This healing is the desire of the Heart of Christ: That all may be one.

Not only was the presence of the Catholic Church minimal in all of Russia and Eastern Europe for 1,000 years, except for Poland, it was actually outlawed from the start of the Communist Revolution in 1917 except for Masses for foreigners in St. Louis Church in Moscow. The only church allowed a kind of relative freedom was the Russian Orthodox. This situation lasted until "glasnost" and "perestroika" in 1987 when religious freedom was given back to the people.

Little by little, the religious needs of the Catholic peoples living in Russia and the independent republics are beginning to be met. Most Russians are Russian Orthodox. The Roman Catholics in Russia are the several millions Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and so on, who were the victims of vast forced migrations in the Communist era, many to Siberia.

There are four dioceses in Russia proper; Belarus and the Ukraine have dioceses as well. There is one in Kazakhstan along with three apostolic administrations, among them Almaty in the charge of Fr. Henry Howaniec of our own Pulaski Franciscans. They all need our help, as I too needed help from others in my three decades as missionary in the Caribbean.

Now that I was home and earning a pastor's salary, I was open to some new mission fields. So when I read in Maryknoll magazine a report by Bp. Jerzy Mazur, SVD, on his new Siberian diocese of Irkutsk, I sent him a donation toward his new cathedral, which will be blessed in September. What a surprise when he invited me to attend! How could I refuse?

Then I read in the Denver Register of the country of Kazakhstan and its four new church jurisdictions, one of them Almaty. So I wrote to Fr. Henry as well, thinking he, too, might need a little help. Of course, this would mean another stop on my September itinerary: Almaty, a city of a million people.

But I will not go empty-handed. I will bring a bequest of $5,000 from a recently deceased friend in Chilton, plus many other gifts for the nascent Catholic dioceses of Russia. Bp. Mazur's Siberian diocese is larger than the whole continental United States. Hardly any church buildings, only a few priests, vast distances. What a joy to be part of the rebirth of this part of Christ's Kingdom!

But returning to the promise of the Virgin at Fatima, we must be most careful lest anything we say or do offend the sensibilities of our Russian Orthodox brethren. The last thing we want to do is to proselytize among them. We are there not to make converts among the Orthodox but to care for Roman Catholics, an immense task in itself.

At the same time, we want to cultivate the warmest of relationships with Orthodox bishops, priests, and lay people. With all future gifts, I will add the stipulation that a percentage be given to needy Orthodox parishes as well. It is the only way that entire Orthodox churches of the East will return one day to that unity that existed in the one Catholic Church for the first 1,000 years of Christianity.

Anyone who might like to send a gift for the Sept. 8 blessing of the new Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Irkutsk or to Fr. Henry Howaniec in Almaty, my address is Box 273, Redgranite, WI 54970.

(Fr. Conard is administrator of St. Mark Parish, Redgranite.)

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