by Catherine Lesage.
In mid-June Marie Javora, Sofia Segal, and I left Combermere for the city of Krasnoyarsk to begin Madonna House’s new mission in Russia. Krasnoyarsk, a growing city, is located in central Siberia, and we are in the downtown area.
Unlike when we went to Magadan, a Catholic parish is already there. It was re-established 14 years ago.
After a few days in Moscow visiting with friends and resting from the first leg of our journey, we breathed a sigh of relief as we stepped into our renovated apartment.
Our young friends, Angela and Rosa, had done a superb job of watching over it and getting it ready while we were getting organized in Combermere, and they welcomed us with a big pot of borsch, Russian beet soup.
Our first few weeks were very busy as we began orienting ourselves, reconnecting with friends Marie and I had made on previous visits, and meeting new people.
There was lots to do to set up the apartment. Almost all the boxes sent from Magadan had to be unpacked—all seventy of them. Since many of these boxes contained books, this also meant that we had to set up the library.
Other things were packed among the books, and whenever I was asked where such and such was—an extension cord, a ruler, a spatula, for example—the response was usually, "It’s probably in one of the boxes." After a while, we were laughing every time we said it.
Plus, as we began to set up, boxes kept having to be moved from one room to another. We counted it up and figured that we had moved each of the boxes an average of five times.
The highlight of July was the installation of the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel on the 16th. On that day, Fr. Antoni, the dean for our area, celebrated the liturgy there for the first time. His homily was encouraging, and he prayed that we would be faithful to our charism and to the work that the Lord has for us in Krasnoyarsk.
We were all deeply moved when he placed the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, and I turned on the electric sanctuary lamp, which we had brought with us from Magadan.
We are now one of the places in the city available for adoration. On Wednesdays, whoever can and wishes to, gathers with us for an hour before the Lord.
In July, Sofia and I made the yearly pilgrimage to an icon of Our Lady at the summit of Mt. Tyshanchik, which is about 2000 meters high. In 1995, a priest had begun this tradition with a group of Krasnoyarsk Catholics.
Along with 40 other pilgrims we made the 12-hour journey by bus, arriving at the base of the Cayani Mountains at 6:30 a.m.. Then, having had little sleep and hardly any time to eat breakfast, we started the climb to our campsite.
Unfortunately it rained the whole time. So what usually takes six hours for inexperienced climbers took us ten.
The remainder of the week was a mixture of rain, clouds, and some sun. The day we made the climb to the icon—a four hour walk—we managed to get back just before it rained.
Then the last couple of days cleared up enough for us to make some excursions.
That mountainous area is very beautiful. We saw virgin forests, cedars that are found in only four parts of the world, a waterfall, rainbows, and interesting cloud formations.
It was a wonderful experience, but we were also happy to get back home.
Our word for these past few months is probably "hospitality of the home and heart." Besides our numerous new acquaintances who live in Krasnoyarsk and are fast becoming friends, we have hosted a variety of people from other parts of Russia and from Europe.
These include a German couple, a group of 40 Germans associated with Focolare, a young woman from Tomsk in Russia, and an Irishman who is active in the Legion of Mary.
We were delighted with the visit of Monique Rivett-Carnac, a friend and neighbor from Combermere and her friend Tatiana Kononova from Moscow, whom she was visiting. They spent a week with us exploring our new city. And much to our surprise and pleasure, friends from Magadan visited also.
In addition to receiving guests, we have also responded to the many invitations that have come our way. We have visited friends in their dachas (summer cottages) and homes, and attended parish events and birthday celebrations.
On August 6th, the Feast of the Transfiguration, we had the official blessing of the apartment and an open house which at least 37 people attended. Many of them remarked on the silence and peace of the area and building.
We also made a retreat in Baikal, the seat of our diocese, which gave us a chance to visit our bishop.
In the midst of all this activity, we find ourselves asking the same questions that people often ask us: what do we do? What are we really about? It is often others who reflect back to us the answer. These are a few things that they have said:
A middle-aged man from the group of German pilgrims, groping for English words, told Marie that he had been to Israel and to the Mount of the Beatitudes. He tried to describe "poor" and "crying" with gestures. He said he had had a deep experience of God in those places and had had the same experience when he stepped into our apartment!
One woman, at supper during her first visit here, said that she felt as though she had received some kind of healing.
Irinia from Magadan said, after only a few hours with us: "You know, it is a different apartment, a different city, but it is still you—Madonna House. Coming here is like going to church for me. It’s a place where I can get renewed, where I feel strong in my faith. At work, out there in the world, I feel very weak in the faith, but as soon as I am in contact with you, there is a sense of strength of faith."
These answers were a big encouragement for us, especially since we seem to have hit the ground running. We thank the Lord who gives us these little signs once in a while to assure us that he is with us and working through our poverty.
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