by Catherine Lesage.
Madonna House had been in Russia for fifteen years—twelve in Magadan and three in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, our current house. Then suddenly on December 6, 2007, the Russian government changed its immigration laws. We didn’t know if we would be able to remain there!
We had been staying in Russia on one-year visas, and now they were being eliminated. Now the government would only give visas for 90 days within a 160-day period. That meant that every three months we would have to leave the country for 70 days.
(Of course, this affected not only us but missionaries throughout Russia as well as foreign organizations and businesses.)
We were in a state of shock. What was happening? What was God doing? What did he want us to do?
Since it was the feast of St. Nicholas, we chose him to be our patron in this situation and throughout this time. we prayed especially to him and to the Infant of Prague. We also put a note with our petition under our statue of the Infant.
Our diocese suggested we apply for what is called "a temporary stay permit," which is valid for three years, and after praying about it, we decided to do this. We hurried to get the necessary documents
The requirements were many and time-consuming, but with God’s help and of course our patron and new friend, St. Nicholas, we got our application in by February 8.
The immigration official told us there would be no problem getting the permit. We had already done the most difficult part—getting the application to the right office, and though there was a quota—it was sufficiently high for us to get it.
Then in July 2008, when our visas were almost expired, we were told that we didn’t make the quota for a three-year permit. We could, they said, apply again next year! This meant that we would very soon have to leave Russia for at least 70 days.
You can imagine our shock and disappointment. What was happening? What was God doing? What did he want us to do? That moment I began a journey of faith, blind faith.
When we explained to our friends in Krasnoyarsk what was happening , their immediate response was, "Katia, this is life in Russia."
It’s true. In Russia, you never know from one day to the other what might or will happen next. This is how our friends live all the time.
Somewhat relieved, I thought to myself: "Okay, this is a chance for me to really be one with the people, one with our friends in Krasnoyarsk. It’s a chance to experience in my being, in my body, what they live every day."
Along with disappointment and shock, I also felt betrayed. We had been promised the permit, and it was not given to us.
I made the connection with the betrayal of Christ by Judas, and I meditated on it. Love itself, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, had been betrayed.
And Christ was the reason we had journeyed to Krasnoyarsk, the reason why we were present to the people there, people who had now become our good friends.
Through this meditation, I was able to stand in the place we were called to stand in, but it was still very difficult. Like our friends, we didn’t know what the next step would be. We didn’t know where we are going to be a month from now, where we are going to be in three months.
So that was our summer. Little by little, the missionaries left—the Sisters serving the parish, one priest and Sofia Segal, the other staff at MH Russia. (Marie Javora, the third staff worker assigned here, was already in Combermere for medical reasons.) Finally, closing the house temporarily, I left for Combermere.
We all ended up in Combermere, myself for three months, in the fall of 2008. The good part was that while we were there, we were bathed in the much-needed presence of Our Lady of Combermere.
Also in Combermere, I had two conversations which helped me stand in this place of unknowing: First, Fr. David May told me that this was perhaps a time of trial, a time of putting down roots in Russia.
Secondly, Helen Hodson was in the process of painting the icon of Peter walking on the water. As we talked about the faith of Peter, a seed of faith was planted in my heart.
At the end of November, I returned to Russia on a three month visa which was good until February.
All I knew was that I was being called to give everything to God—to just say, "Okay God, whatever you want."
This was a very, very difficult thing for me to do because it meant leaving myself open to the possibility of leaving Russia. And I really love Russia; I love the people there.
So I settled back in our apartment not knowing how long we would be able to stay there. The other two stayed on in Canada, Sofia in Combermere, and Marie in MH Toronto. By this time I was in a state of much distress.
I was anxious about this and that, in fact, about the whole thing. Realizing that my trust in God was by now almost nil, I went to talk to the parish priest. (He had returned to Russia.)
In confession, he gave me the same scripture passage that Helen Hodson had given me—Peter walking on the water.
I received a big grace through this confession. Suddenly a light lit up inside; suddenly I understood something. I stopped looking at the storm that was raging around me and inside me. Instead, I fixed my eyes on Jesus and found peace.
When I say that I found peace by looking at Jesus, what I mean is that I received the grace to say to him, "Lord, whatever you want. If you want us to leave, we’ll leave. If you want us to stay, we’ll stay."
When I was able to say that, everything fell into place. Though there were still many unanswered questions, I was no longer anxious. I was really able to accept whatever happened.
After that, though none of the situation changed, inside of me, everything changed. Even if we didn’t get our permits, I would be able to accept this in peace.
A week later, the situation began to change. In an appointment with an immigration officer, I was told that our applications would be reviewed and that we would be getting our three-year permits in January.
In fact, he promised that we would have them by January 23. As it turned out, I received them on February 2—just in time.
God used the whole situation in another way as well. Because the people knew that we had suffered what they suffer all the time—things not going the way they should, uncertainty, constant crises—a new identification, a deeper bonding, took place.
It was a new beginning. People started coming to help us with a bit of renovation, painting and such. A group of us painted the kitchen; another painted the library. It was a chance for them to get to know us better, and they started sharing more, on a heart level, their hopes, their joys, their problems.
People also started to come to our house to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. (Our parish doesn’t have a church, and so the Blessed Sacrament is in our apartment.)
We had told them before that the door is always open, that they could come and be before the Lord any time they wanted, but this concept had not yet become a reality to them. But when they spent time helping us, when they got to know us better, they saw we really meant it. So they started coming to our chapel.
As the saying goes, "For those who love God, all things work for good." We are now more closely bonded with our friends, our faith has grown, and our house in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, is still open.
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