As soon as we arrived we began our evangelization of presence as we walked the streets after Mass. Fr. Jan showed us the various places where the people gather. There are many young people that fill the streets. It is sad to say that they pass their time by hanging around. Many are drinking alcohol. The people here have never seen Catholic Religious Sisters before. Here the Felician Sisters are telling the people that the church is much aware of them and their needs. The vision and mission is alive as we walk the streets and share our message of God’s love by a simple greeting of Praise be Jesus Christ and a hello in Russian. Once again the people were curious and asked us for a photograph with us.
The first few days as we were trying to get our home together two sisters were returning from the chapel with bags of potatoes and some cooking utensils. At the top of the stairs a young man approached us and insisted on carrying our bags. The young man was drunk and was carrying his own large bottle of some kind of alcohol. He would not take “no” for an answer and so he grabbed our bags and down the stairs he went, losing his balance at times. One of the sisters tried to speak to him in Russian to give us the bags back. Finally when we arrived at our apartment with him he gave us our bags back. We asked him if he knew Jesus and he responded “yes,” he apparently knew some kind of English. We thanked him and gave him the sign of the cross on his forehead. He responded by giving each of us kiss on the cheek, smiled and then left us.
We have learned something that has touched each of us as we shared life and the mission in Petropavlovsk, Kamchatsky—that at times we are seen as a sect, like that of Jehovah Witness, or Seven Day Adventists. This is something very new for us being from Poland and America where our Catholic faith is seen as the true faith. One of the volunteers from Poland, Christian, did a questionnaire for his thesis at the University here in the city on how people see the Catholic faith and learned that 30 percent of the people believe that we are a sect. We have experienced this personally.
When we would ride the bus, we would notice there was such order; no one would try to get off without paying for the ride. When we asked how this was achieved, we learned that people still did this out of fear of getting caught, arrested or even shot. This sounded drastic but it was the reality here. A few of the bus drivers did not take our fare; we believe they recognized who we were and what we represented.
There is a plot of land that Father Krzysztof has been trying to purchase for the past few years where he would like to build St. Theresa’s Church. It is on top of a beautiful hilltop that overlooks the city. He had made a few initial agreements for the use of the land and waited for the signature of the mayor to renew the contract for this land. He has had many meetings with the mayor where the contract needed to be signed however the mayor finds many excuses for this not to be done and right now the situation seems to be more complicated because the land is now going to be put up for auction and will be given to the highest bidder. Father wants this process done honestly and not paying off someone under the table to make it move faster. This prolongs the process. The matter needs our prayerful support. The plans and designs for the new Church are already made; stones and other materials are collected; and even the donated organ from Germany waits to be brought here from Poland. The design of the Church is beautiful. Father wants the Church to be inviting, with a lift to get to the top of the hill where one can see a beautiful panorama of the city, bay, and volcanoes. The outside vestibule is to be a gathering place, which will include outside Stations of the Cross. Just a few days ago, on September 7, the feast of Our Lady of Vladimir, we learned that the USCCB, the Conference of American Bishops is ready to send monetary support as soon as the Church is ready to be built. Also on that same day, Father received the message that a grant will be sent from Germany for this effort. However, the next day, on the feast of the Nativity of Mary, after Father’s meeting with the mayor, he received news that would seem to delay the process to begin building soon.
6 Our Neighborhood
The people seemed to be very helpful, especially in our time of need. Whenever we looked as though we were lost or in need of some kind of direction, someone seemed to come to our aid, like the woman who asked us what we were looking for as we stood on t
he street corner. She led us to where we wanted to go; on our return, we saw her again and she asked if we found what we were looking for. We felt as though we had made a friend.
As we were walking on our street, we met a man who was drunk and asked what he could do to make his life better. Many people here suffer from alcoholism and have no direction. We mentioned to him to first get rid of the Vodka. We began carrying cards with the address of the Alcohol Center in the city for them to get help if they really wanted it.
Right after that encounter, we met a woman who was very excited to see us. Ludmila knew we were Christian but did not know what kind. We explained we were Catholic religious sisters. She wanted a picture taken with us. It seemed as though many times this is where sharing would begin, with a photo. She then asked where we were from, and we said Poland and America. She first shared her pain of living in Russia, which she said is run by the mafia, that life is unfair and her pension is only $300 a month and she struggles. She then said how she hated Putin, who runs the country. She mentioned there is no organization or laws that help and organize the life of the people. She feels the government does whatever they want and nothing is done to protect the people. She also shared how much she “hated” President Obama, but liked Presidents Bush and Clinton, not our past President Bush because he was for war. We just listened to her. Ludmila then wanted to give us a gift. She had oil from Jerusalem, which she put on us and then she gave us the blessed oil. She also gave us the icon of her patron Ludmila. We in return gave her a wooden cross and a rosary and pamphlet on how to pray the rosary. She immediately put the rosary around her neck. We see that there is a hunger for a deeper spirituality and faith. With every challenging encounter there are those that reveal to us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is needed to be proclaimed.
We have found that one of the best ways to evangelize is our visits to the market. Every time we go people stop us and ask us where we are from, why are here, what are are we doing. Our response is always that we are Catholics from St. Theresa’s on Gagarina Street. They tell us that they have never seen nuns before or those who have seen nuns are surprised that we are happy and talk to them because the Orthodox nuns walk with heads bowed and they do not greet people. One day two of us met a man from Armenia he right away approached us and asked if we were Catholic nuns. He was Catholic and did not know that there was a Catholic Church in Kamchatka. He informed us that there are 50 Armenian Catholic families in the area. We gave him information where the Church was located and now pray that he and the others will find a home at St. Theresa’s Church. Also in the market we met a woman from the Ukraine who is Catholic who was also unaware about any Catholics in the area. She was surprised to hear about this. There was another woman who was selling fish, she asked us where we were from and begged for prayers, her husband was hospitalized last December, and she shared that he was losing his mind. One day he left the hospital on his own, she has not seen him since December. When we promised our prayer she offered us a dish of caviar, the common food here. That day we collected four dishes of caviar. One woman knew someone that was in need of confession. She asked us if we could hear her confession, we said no but told her about the priests in the Church. We went back a few days later to visit her in the market to give her a holy card with the address and phone number of the Church, but this time she did not welcome us and did not want the information, she told us: “this is not the right way.” We were surprised at this but just walked away and whispered a blessing in the place where we were rejected.
In one store where we visited for the first time, an elderly woman came up to us asking us where we lived because she wanted to come and pray with us. She began to cry, telling us about her son who was killed in Afghanistan. We could feel that our listening brought her some kind of consolation. We gave her the address of the Church and a small wooden cross. She cried some more and assured us again that she would come to pray with us.
Switlana is a woman from the Ukraine who has been in Russia a number of years; she had become our friend in one of the markets we visited often. She was sad when she realized that we would be leaving soon. She took our phone number and wanted to come with her daughter to visit us before we would leave.
Walking down the hill from the market, we met a man and his wife selling raspberries and potatoes. We decided to buy our potatoes from him, knowing how hard he must have worked to grow them. He asked us where we were from, and we said Poland and America. He was surprised and asked us if we liked being in Kamchatka. Of course we said “yes.” He told us that the nature here is so beautiful but the way in which things are run in the country is unorganized and that there are no laws to protect the people. They have to work very hard to have the little they have. This was not the first time people were surprised that we liked being here and would like to stay. We asked him if he would mind taking a picture with us. He agreed and we felt as though we made him happy that day. In return he gave us a cup full of his home grown raspberries.
We met a woman from Byelorussia; her name was Anna. She had lived in Russia for 30 years. She shared her joy about her granddaughter becoming a Catholic. She saw us a few times in the market but took a while before she had the courage to greet and talk with us. She was interested in where we were from and said that she was a Catholic. We gave her a holy card with the times of Mass and the parish phone number. She promised she would come to the Church before we would leave.
That same day we met a man with one leg who was just sitting in the middle of the market. He said he was Christian and wanted us to take his picture. He asked us to tell everyone that he was a Christian. This seemed like a small sharing of faith but one that was significant as he recognized what we stood for the name of Jesus Christ.
Fr Krzysztof, the pastor, asked us to visit a few families who were a part of the Memoria Organization, people who were sent out of their own countries such as the Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and many other countries because of political or other reasons. They were sent here for punishment and hard work. Many of these people were now elderly, handicapped, left alone; the goal of the organization is to help them with their needs. This organization turned to the Catholic Church to help them to find these people. We began with five names and addresses of people who lived near our home. We found the street and address and knocked on doors, the dog would bark but no answer. At one apartment, we thought we heard the person on the other side of the door but no one opened it. We felt as though they saw us through the peep hole and just did not want to open the door. We went to another home and, when we were asked who it is, we said we were from the Catholic Church. The immediate response was: “Good bye and go your own way.” Yes, we have experienced how people do see us as a sect among them. We understood more and more that what was needed here was to be among the people and to build relationships with them. This is slow and takes time. The pastor asked Olga, the parish secretary, to call some of the phone numbers that were on the list to prepare our way for a visit to them. We sat with Olga as she made each phone call. When she explained why she was calling every person shared a little bit about their personal story and hardship because of their experiences. Olga mentioned that Catholic Sisters would like to come and visit with them and right away she sensed their fear, that we may be like Jehovah Witness or another sect that waned to come and take over their home or even try to baptize them. She explained that we only wanted to visit and not to baptize them. Patience was needed in every situation when it came to meeting people, especially when they have never seen Catholic Religious Sisters.