by Marie Javora.
Last year, three staff celebrated the first Christmas of Madonna House in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
When Katia (Catherine Lesage) and I returned home after a Twelve Step seminar, there wasn’t too much time for Christmas preparations.
We were lucky to get someone with a car to take us to one of the big stores where we could buy what we needed for the holidays: food, decorations, Christmas tree lights, and a few household items.
Living as we do in the Siberian taiga (a forest land), we had hoped to get a real Christmas tree—called a "New Year’s tree" here—but there was not one in sight. It seems that almost everyone gets an artificial one, which is what we ended up with. It did look almost real, though.
We had a couple of Christmas preparation work bees and made a big batch of cabbage rolls and Katia’s mother’s French Canadian vol au vent pastries. In between things, Sofia Segal managed to make a couple of batches of cookies.
Sofia got together with Andrei, a jazz guitarist and the husband of our good friend Ira Russki, for practice sessions for a program they put together for Christmas Eve. Since the jazz chords were unfamiliar to Sofia, learning them required a lot of practice. She also composed a lovely Christmas lullaby for the occasion.
Our Christmas plans turned upside down when our pastor, Fr. Antoni, phoned to say he was going to Kansk from December 23rd through the 26th to celebrate Christmas there. Sister Olga, who works in the parish, would be going with him, and he said he very much wanted Katia to go as well.
Kansk is a small parish about 400 km away. It has no resident priest, and the Claretians in Krasnoyarsk have been asked to take it on for now.
Kansk, which is about the size of Magadan (the city where our Russian house used to be), was also the site of Communist gulags and consequently has the same feeling of oppression.
The building across the street from the apartment where Mass is celebrated is the place where people were brought to be shot. The parishioners, who are mostly of Polish and German background, are poor.
It was hard for Katia to decide what to do, since her going would mean that we would not be together for our first Christmas here. We talked and prayed, and she decided to go. It was a small sacrifice we could all make so that the little parish in Kansk would have Christmas.
The Christmas celebration here in Krasnoyarsk was truly beautiful. The young people’s group had put together a Christmas play, a modern story about a young couple. The woman becomes pregnant, but she and her husband feel they are not yet ready to have a child. They decide to have an abortion.
First a friend and then the doctor explain what abortion really is and talk to her about the preciousness of a new life. The woman changes her mind.
The couple are evicted from their apartment and rejected by their parents. They end up giving birth in a shelter provided by some street people who befriend them.
Throughout the play, the story is interspersed with quotations from the gospel story of the birth of Christ. It was well done and very moving.
The play was followed by Sofia and Andrei on the guitar with Sofia providing some vocal accompaniment. People enjoyed it very much.
The Christmas Eve Mass was celebrated solemnly and beautifully, and there was standing room only. I was sorry Katia couldn’t be in two places at once.
After Mass, Sofia and I came home, and with hearts filled with peace and thanksgiving, we had our little collation.
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