Current Church Programs in Far East Russia
Pastoral work with the seven Catholic parishes of our Deanery, including the establishment of new parishes.
Free distribution of Catholic Literature and Bibles to the Russian Far East and throughout the Russian Republic (to more than 75,000 addresses to date).
Correspondence course in the Catholic Faith by mail and by internet in the Russian language (people throughout Russia and the world have enrolled).
Local parish branch of CARITAS, the Catholic International humanitarian aid organization, including soup kitchen, home health care nursing, and distribution of medicine, food and clothing to children's homes and orphanages.
CARITAS Primorye, the regional office of CARITAS, including five Women's Support Centers, Medical Center, projects with "Healing the Children", disaster relief, and CARITAS branches operating from small parishes in our territory.
Ongoing search for the remnants of Catholic communities throughout the Russian Far East, including the areas of Sakhalin Island, Primorski State, Khabarovski State, and Amurski State, as well as archival research to recover the history of our Church in this region.
Russian Roman Rite Liturgical Music Center, with future plans for a liturgical music publishing company and liturgical music school.
Restoration of the historic, pre-revolutionary cathedral church of the Most Holy Mother of God in Vladivostok.
After 75 years of militant atheistic communism which carried out the most devastating religious repression in the history of the Church, most Russians know very little about God and even less about Catholicism. A recent Russian government study of the religious persecution under communism, prepared for President Yeltsin and based on newly released information from the KGB archives, estimates that 700,000 clergy and religious lost their lives between 1917-1937 for their faith! Just one month after it ceased being the Soviet Union, Fr. Myron Effing and Fr. Daniel Maurer arrived in Russia in February 1992 to help rebuild the once-flourishing Catholic Church in the Russian Far East. With the approval of the Vatican and at the invitation of Most Rev. Joseph Werth, S.J., the newly appointed bishop of Novosibirsk, (Siberia) Russia, they chose to live in Vladivostok, the Russian Far East's largest city. They were the only priests for more than a 1500-mile radius on the Russian main land. Now they are two of only seven American priests in all of Asian Russia, a territory twice the size of the 48 contiguous United States.
Vladivostok is located in the southeasternmost corner of Russia where it borders communist China, North Korea and the Sea of Japan. It is a city of nearly a million people, the major Russian port on the Pacific Ocean, home base of the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet, and the terminus of the famous Trans-Siberian Railroad. When Fathers Effing and Maurer arrived from California there were fewer than ten baptized Catholics in the city. Almost four years later there is a flourishing parish of over 300 active Catholics. They have also discovered Catholics in many other cities and towns in the Russian Far East. They visit them when they can, instructing them in their faith and baptizing their children.
Because of the success in locating Catholics in other areas of the Russian Far East, five more parishes were officially erected in 1993 and 1994 and placed under the care of Fr. Effing and Fr. Maurer by Bishop Werth. Besides Most Holy Mother of God Parish in Vladivostok, Fr. Effing was the founding pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in the large city of Khabarovsk (pop. 700,000), a 14-hour train ride from Vladivostok; of Saints Cyril and Methodius Parish in the city of Nicholaevsk-on-the-Amur (pop. 50,000) near Sakhalin Island; of Holy Transfiguration Parish in the city of Blagoveshensk (pop. 200,000), a two hour flight from Vladivostok; and of Our Lady of the Pacific Parish in the easternmost port city of Nahodka (pop. 70,000) a four hour drive from Vladivostok. After the arrival of other priests to take most of those parishes, Fr Effing has since founded Annunciation Parish in Arsenyev (100,000 population), Visitation Parish in Lesozovodsk (120,000), and Nativity Parish in Ussurisk(200,000). Fr. Maurer is founding pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Bolshoy Kamyen (pop. 60,000), a 3-hour train ride from Vladivostok and Holy Trinity Parish in the village of Romanovka. Because they are canons regular, a kind of religious order which emphasizes the common life, neither priest can live in these new parishes, but they have made the commitment to visit them once a month for Mass, confessions, and baptismal preparations until other priests are available. Every day the missionaries pray for more priests to arrive in the near future so that these parishes will have resident pastors, and so that at least five more new parishes can be established in cities which now have Catholics but no priest.
Service and Evangelization
The main task of the missionaries is to serve the needs of the Catholics. But a further and even more difficult call is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a culture where most people have been taught that Jesus was a contrived myth to keep people poor and exploited. To tell people the truth about Christ, the Vladivostok Catholic Mission began a weekly Saturday evening prime-time TV program of 90 minutes to thousands of households through the generous offer of greatly reduced air time by local cable television company. Because neither priest spoke Russian when they arrived, the program was directed by a layman who was baptized into a protestant confession two years earlier. Six months after the Catholic mission opened, he was received into the Catholic Church. The TV program has been interrupted because of the lack of video materials to show, and because of the rising cost of air time.
The Vladivostok Mission has also sent Catholic and Christian literature and rosaries to more than 75,000 families. Thousands of people from all over Russia who live in places where there is no Catholic parish have enrolled in our 12-lesson catechetical correspondence course, "Introduction to Christianity". Both of these programs are administered by Catholic laymen who became Christian only five years ago. We now have three additional correspondence courses: "A Course in the Bible", "Christianity and Islam" and "Children's Bible Course".
Ongoing Education in the Faith
To instruct their people in the mysteries of the Catholic Faith and to deepen their awareness of God's love, the two priests give three weekly classes in Vladivostok: for adult inquirers, and in each of their seven parishes. There are also lectures in Christianity, in Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and in Chastity, Natural Family Planning, and Family Values which are given in most of the colleges and high schools of our state where we have parishes. We have also spoken to numerous groups of adults, high school students, and children about God, Jesus Christ and the Church.
Resources for Evangelization and Catechetics
When Fr. Effing and Fr. Maurer arrived in Russia, there was almost no Catholic literature available in the Russian language. From the beginning, the mission attracted talented young people who became translators and editors of everything from prayer cards and brochures to catechetical text book series. Now there is a parish library and a literature distribution ministry. Most of the translations have been of religious literature, but recently they have begun to translate and print books and pamphlets about natural family planning (see "Choose Life") and the treatment of alcohol and substance abuse.
Blessed with Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life
The Lord has blessed the new parish of Vladivostok with native vocations. After six years of study, our first native vocation, Evgenie Peregudov, was ordained to the transitional diaconate on June 25, 2000. Another young man is currently in the pre-seminary in Novosibirsk. A third man has taken his temporary vows as a member of our new order, the Canons Regular of Jesus the Lord. Several other men have asked to enter the seminary. Seven men with families have asked to become permanent deacons. One women has joined the convent, and four others are requesting entrance.
The High Point - Sunday Mass
The high point of the weekly activity in the Vladivostok mission is Sunday Mass. For the first two years, Mass was held in various rented halls in the center of Vladivostok. Since January 1, 1994, Weekly Sunday Mass has been held again in the Catholic church. Usually well over 100 people attend Sunday Mass, though many of them must travel for two hours or more on public transportation to get here. Many parishioners are prevented from attending during the spring and summer months because they must work in their vegetable gardens which are often located hours out of town.
Russian Liturgical Music
Russians have an intuitive cultural appreciation for beautiful liturgy. From our first Sunday, with very few Russian musical resources, we have taught our people to sing in Russian and in Latin. Now the parish, has a choir, a music director, an organist who has composed beautiful liturgical music in both the Catholic and Russian chant traditions, three talented parishioners who have translated English, Latin and French hymns into beautiful Russian words, and 64-page Russian hymnal produced by Fr. Maurer and the parish. Current projects are additional hymns for holy days, and musical settings for the Liturgy of the Hours.
Through the generosity of benefactors, Fr. Maurer inaugurated the Liturgical Music Society of Saint Augustine in 1994 with the goal of producing and distributing liturgical music to all the parishes (now more than 50) and religious communities of the entire diocese, and to all the bishops of Russian speaking Roman Catholics. In ist first year of activity, the Society of Saint Augustine has distributed ist hymnal and over 140 pages of musical accompaniment to ist 60 member organizations. In addition it has produced and distributed 50 copies of two cassette tapes of liturgical music, one of hymns composed or translated by members of the Vladivostok parish and another of Advent and Christmas carols, many of which were also translated by Vladivostok parishioners.
The Legion of Mary and the Lay Apostolate
In January 1993, at the request of the pastor Fr. Effing, and under the spiritual direction of Fr. Maurer, a local praesidium of the Legion of Mary began to meet under the patronage of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Ist five active members, all young men, taught the faith to adolescents, visited shut-ins and cancer patients in the county hospital and went door-to-door with Catholic literature.
The two core members of the parish praesidium left for seminary in August of 1994, and the group dwindled further as other members moved away. By September, only one of the original five was still available, and Legion meetings ceased altogether. Now there is renewed interest, with two praesidia, one for youth, and one for adults. However, we are seeking a Legion volunteer who can come to Vladivostok for 6-12 months to help encourage and invigorate our praesidia.
Since the beginning of the rebirth of the parish, ist members have been concerned to minister not only to the spiritual needs of the city, but also to the social needs. In 1992 a local chapter of the international Catholic relief organization, CARITAS, was chartered. Under the leadership of three laywomen parishioners, it has become one of the most active chapters of CARITAS in the former Soviet Union. It operates a free medical clinic, a home health care program and thrift shop, programs for children, and is constantly searching for and obtaining medicine and food for free distribution. CARITAS volunteers from the parish regularly visit the elderly and shut ins.
Ecumenical Cooperation and Sectarian Divisions
In all of their work, the priests and their lay colleagues try to cooperate with the traditional Russian Orthodox Church as much a possible. In spite of the opposition of the local Orthodox bishop, they maintain good relationships with some of the local Orthodox pastors, and always pray for better cooperation between the Catholics and the Orthodox. They are concerned that the sad division of the Church will keep the majority of people who are not members of any church from taking seriously the message of Christ.
Meanwhile, non-Christian sects and newer Christian groups of a sectarian nature are actively seeking converts who do not know anything about the Apostolic Churches of Rome and Orthodoxy, and who are openly insulting toward traditional Russian Orthodox Christianity. In Vladivostok there are active groups of Hare Krishna, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Dyanetics, Boston Church of Christ, and Moonies. There are a number of evangelical groups who do not speak to one another and who think Catholics and Orthodox are damned. There is even a new group preaching that Mary is a goddess. All are making inroads among the young who do not have enough information to make an informed decision about the truth of Christian beliefs. In order to spread the Truth and to offset even further divisions, the mission needs more resources and personnel. The needs are monumental. The task would be overwhelming without the generosity of American Catholics who have prayed for years for the end of communism in Russia.
Another great need in Vladivostok at present is to reconstruct the former Catholic cathedral building that was confiscated by the communists after the revolution. Before being returned to the Catholics, it was used as the State Government Archives for 60 years. During that time one additional wooden floor and two additional floors of steel I-beams and reinforced concrete were built in the nave and transept. After two years of bureaucratic and political struggles, the church building was returned to the ownership of the Catholic parish, only the second Catholic church in Russia to be returned fully, not merely rented, to ist true owners. Like everything else under communism, it was allowed to decay to the point where it will need major reconstruction before it can become a beautiful place for worship again. In November 1994 workmen began to remove the upper concrete floor where the parish had celebrated Mass for the past 11 months. Sunday Mass was moved to the ground floor, and although the floor removal was completed in five months, the more difficult job of restoration then began, taking another eight months. Then the project of replacing the old, decayed wooden window frames and windows was begun. The first new window was dedicated on March 25, 2000. The next six windows will be completed in December, 2000. The remainder of the windows will be completed in 2001, at which time it will be necessary to continue the renovation by repairing the brick facade of the building. It is hoped that some day we will be able to complete the steeples on the church-bells have already been donated for this purpose by the Siberian Society of Poland. Mass will continue on the second floor until sufficient funding comes through for further renovation work.
Some American donors are opposed to spending large amounts of money on buildings, preferring to donate toward social programs, perhaps that is because there are already many church buildings in America. But the former cathedral of Vladivostok is the only active Catholic church with church architecture in Russia in a radius of more than 2500 miles. Once reconstructed, it will be a center of prayer, of worship and of hope. Eventually Vladivostok is certain to become a center of Catholic study with a seminary and perhaps even a Catholic university. The needs are great and the potential is limitless.
Great Financial Need
The greatest financial need is general support for all our missionary initiatives. See our current needs list. We are now responsible for seven parishes, and must pay rent and maintenance as well as travel expenses. Each of these parishes dreams of having at least a small church, but most Russian Catholics are very poor.
The second greatest need is capital for developing Russia-based funding sources, so that the mission will not always be dependent on foreign donations, which could be a problem if there is some kind of new restrictions on religious freedom. We would hope to return these funds to the source as our abilities to earn our way in Russia increase.
The third need is support for our CARITAS outreach, especially the Women's Support Centers, and outreach to the elderly poor and abandoned.
The Vladivostok Catholic Mission is not an American organization. It is a part of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Administration of Irkutsk, Russia. Geographically, Irkutsk is one of the largest areas of the world under one bishop. Yet it has very little financial resources. The bishop, the Most Reverend Jerzy Mazur, S.V.D., a citizen of Poland, is 2000 air miles away (a four-hour flight) from Vladivostok, and he has many Russian missions to look after. He can give no substantial monetary help to the Vladivostok Mission. Because Fr. Effing and Fr. Maurer are incardinated in the Irkutsk diocese, they rely on their newly opened American mission office, "Mary Mother of God Mission Society" to supply their needs and those of their Russian mission. Thus they rely on the support of generous friends and benefactors who believe in the missionary role of the Church and who want to see the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church flourish again in this vast area of the world.