by Beth Holmes.
"Arise and go." These are the first words of the Madonna House Little Mandate which gives the essence of Madonna House spirituality. These three words mean that we are to be ready to leave at any time to go any place where the Lord calls us.
Recently, Madonna House Magadan was closed, and the Lord asked Catherine Lesage and me, the staff there, to "arise and go"— to Siberia! Madonna House Russia now has a house in the city of Krasnoyarsk.
First, of course, we had to pack.
In Magadan, the only way you can send anything (except by mail) is in what’s called "a container." Fortunately, they are very large. A container meant that we could take more than just our fifty boxes of library books and everything used in translating Catherine Doherty’s books into Russian.
This "more" included furniture, dishes, linens, the vacuum cleaner, and our wonderful washing machine (which everyone encouraged us to take).
What we didn’t take went to friends or to the parish either for their use or for them to give to those in need.
Unlike in North America, you don’t just phone the movers and pay them to do the work. You do everything yourself.
Friends collected boxes for us, of varying size. We needed lots. Then with some help from friends, Catherine and I worked steadily for about two weeks sorting and packing.
Lyuda L. was our star. Not only did she come to help, but since she had packed a container twice before, she had expertise without which we would have been up the proverbial creek. And her peaceful and loving presence was also a balm for our spirits as we sorted through our memories.
She took the plastic dishes with which the original three staff had set up house. She said they will remind her of us.
The Lord in the Blessed Sacrament left our house on December 13th. That day, Catherine and I knelt before him in the tabernacle and prayed for all who had ever served here— especially the "pioneers" who founded this house—Marie Javora, Miriam Stulberg, and Alma Coffman—for all who had ever come through our doors; and for the parish.
And we especially thanked the Lord for all his blessings during the twelve years that Madonna House has been in Magadan.
A truck brought the container to our building the morning of December 16th. About seven of us moved everything down the three flights of stairs to the street, while Misha and Fr. Milosh put things into place inside the container. After two hours of constant movement and at least a minimum of chaos, the container was ready to go.
Catherine and Lyuda followed the truck to the port for the final paperwork, and to witness the container being padlocked and sealed. The rest of us had a post-packing tea in the library, where our voices echoed in the empty room.
Catherine and I then spent the rest of the day decompressing and unwinding from what felt like two weeks of non-stop packing finished by the push to get the container filled and off.
We were frequently in tears, as we were each hit at various times by the historic nature of this event: Madonna House Magadan, where staff loved and suffered for twelve years, was really closing!
Madonna House was leaving this place where, at no small cost, a firm foundation has been laid for our apostolate in Russia. All of us who have ever lived here, I think, carry the experience in our hearts. All those experiences are part of the foundation of whatever future MH has in Russia. We are all taking this next step.
We moved over to the church basement, returning frequently to the apartments to clean and finish things up. We also helped the parish as they prepared for Christmas and New Year’s.
On New Year’s Day, the parish bid us a formal farewell. At the end of Mass, Fr. Michael Shields, the pastor, began by thanking MH for what we meant to the parish and particularly to him.
By our example, he said, especially our living "I am third," we had witnessed to the treasure of being hidden and humble. This example, he said, has helped him become a better person, a better Christian, and a better priest. He was tearful, and so was the congregation.
The parish administrator, Lyuba B., then spoke. She said that Madonna House had been critical to the foundation of the parish, and she thanked us for the personal support all the MH staff have been for her from the beginning. She said she didn’t know how she would have managed without Madonna House.
Then Lyuba, who never shows her emotions in public, began to cry. We were deeply touched. I think that’s when we began to cry ourselves.
Fr. David Means, the other parish priest, stood up next, and gave his thanks in a few words. He then presented us with two copies of a lovely photo album he had put together on the computer, a kind of pictorial celebration of Madonna House in Magadan.
Fr. Michael then asked Catherine and me to come forward for a blessing and invited everyone to gather around and pray with us, which they did. We received this blessing on behalf of all the staff who have ever served in Magadan. And the tears continued to flow from everyone. It was all a testimony to the love the people have for Madonna House.
We left Magadan on January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany. We turned our faces westward towards Krasnoyarsk and prepared for the next chapter of Madonna House in the land of our foundress.
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