by Fr. David May.
In an article in our September issue, Fr. David told us about the visit of our directors general to Moscow. In Part 2, he shares with us the signs of hope he saw in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where we have a house.
After several days in Moscow the four of us—Mark Schlingerman, Susanne Stubbs, Marie Javora, and I—took Siberian Air to Krasnoyarsk, a flight of about 4½ hours.
Krasnoyarsk is a city of about a million. Though it is 12 time zones away from Combermere, we felt right at home in our Madonna House there, surrounded as we were, by the staff (Catherine Lesage and Sofia Segal) and their friends.
The day after our arrival, the priests at the Claretian Monastery gave us all a warm, welcoming lunch consisting of several courses. One of the priests is Russian, the rest Polish. Fortunately, a couple of them speak English very well, and were able to translate between Russian, Polish, and English.
Then after lunch, Fr. Antoni, one of the ones who speaks English, sat with us and shared some thoughts about the presence of Madonna House in Krasnoyarsk.
He noted that for the Russians, "being" is more important than "doing," and that it is more than timely for us to be bringing Catherine’s spirituality about this to her homeland, particularly as this is implemented in poustinia.
He also emphasized what joy our team has brought to the Church in Krasnoyarsk by their presence.
We reflected back to him how the mystery of suffering has embraced our staff in Russia (mainly, but not only, in the form of illness)—both in Magadan and now, in Krasnoyarsk.
This, too, we told him, is part of our "service" of identification with God’s Passion-bearing people, but it also explains why we have recently had so few staff to spare for our Russian mission. This is, we said, a mystery of God’s plan.
Since this visit was mainly a visitation by the directors general, the next days involved several general sessions amongst us staff as we prayed and talked about every aspect of our current apostolate in Russia.
It was noted that activities and meetings of various kinds ebb and flow, and people enter our lives and then disappear, only to reappear at another time.
But it became clear as we talked that the consistent point is the Lord’s call to be a house of peace and love, a place of interior silence where people not only feel welcome, but can also touch the silence of God and rest in it.
This silent presence depends to some extent on the mutual love and forgiveness of the staff among themselves, their depth of prayer, and yes, their suffering with Christ in whatever burdens he asks them to carry.
It seems that no matter where we go on visitation, we are always brought back to these fundamental points of our spirituality. But while in Krasnoyarsk, we received an extraordinary confirmation of the truth and relevance of these points, as we had "meetings of the heart," one after another, with friends of the house.
On Friday evening, for example, we met a group of five young adults, mostly members of the parish choir. They gave us gifts: icon reproductions within a frame of locally hand-crafted pressed birch bark, and a play they put on for us. The play, a vignette from the life of the famous Inspector Poirot, was in English, and it was both funny and delightful.
We were able to spend time with this little group, and we were impressed by their sincerity, good spirits, and dedication to their faith.
The next morning, Fr. Tadeusz took us to Solnichi, a kind of suburb, to see the new church he is building there. This also gave us an opportunity to get a broader view of the city: new apartment buildings going up everywhere, buildings of pleasant appearance unlike the concrete-block structures of the Communist era.
Apparently people are moving into the city from the Siberian villages in great numbers.
That evening we had pizza at home with Fr. Maxim, the one Russian member of the Claretian team. He has been deeply touched by MH spirituality, especially through the book, Grace in Every Season.
He told us he was relieved when he met his first MH members to discover that we are not as holy as our literature sounds!
He, too, emphasized the thirst people have at present for prayer, silence, poustinia.
We attended the parish Mass on Sunday, with me preaching and Fr. Maxim translating sentence by sentence. It was the third Sunday of Easter, and there was a joyful spirit in the air.
After Mass, about 20-30 parishioners stayed on to meet us and to ask us questions: How do you overcome doubts? Was Catherine Doherty devoted to icons even though she became Roman Catholic? How do you attain quiet of mind and discernment?
The next evening we walked to the apartment of friends, Dima and Katia, where there was to be a meeting of the coordinators of the Alpha program (about 25 people).
Alpha, which originated in England in Protestant circles, is a way of evangelization that introduces individuals to faith in Christ through the means of teaching in a small-group setting followed by a meal and fellowship.
After the leaders gave reports on the most recent activities of their groups, we staff asked them a few questions about their work.
Then they had an opportunity to question the three directors of Madonna House: What is our experience of evangelization? What does it take to join MH? How was it that we came to Krasnoyarsk? To Magadan?
What is it like to be three directors instead of one, and do we agree, or disagree, more often?!
Once again, something of the Spirit seemed to happen that evening. They told us later it was not so much what we said, but the manner of speaking from the heart that touched everyone.
When we told them we were Russian in spirit because of our foundress, Catherine, they seemed delighted.
I wrote in my journal that day: "It was a blessed evening, and by the end of it, there was a real sense of communion together in love and faith." We were together for about three hours.
The next evening was our final gathering. This time it was with the "poustinia group," a smaller group that has been meeting in our home to study the book Poustinia and to share together. Catherine Lesage has been leading it.
There was an immediate rapport between us and this group of young believers, many of whom we had already met in the other venues.
Our discussion flowed around the following questions: How were your first experiences of poustinia different from now? How long before the mind stops racing? What are the signs of the presence of evil, and what do you do about it? What if you don’t have 24 hours to spend in poustinia?
How is the poustinia experience of God different from the everyday experience of him? What aspects of Russian spirituality are in Madonna House? How do you know when it is God speaking? What are your impressions of Russia?
As on the previous evening, our session went for nearly three hours. I wrote in my journal: "Praise God for these people! It is easy to be with them. Once again there was a meeting of minds and hearts. They thanked us for what we shared, ‘not so much’ (or only) what you said, but the spirit with which you spoke."
Two days later, we were on our way back to Canada. We carried with us the memory of a suffering people in whom faith is blossoming, and we felt privileged not only to witness this, but to be some small part of this time of grace through the presence of Madonna House in Catherine’s homeland. I’ll close with one last quote from my journal:
"During the flight to Moscow, the skies were largely clear, and I could see the sheer vastness of the land extending far to the north—huge rivers, wide prairies, some settlements. It struck me that there has also been something ‘vast’ about our time in Russia.
"There has been a terrible 70-year attack on the Faith, with all the scars this has left of every imaginable kind. And yet the Russian sense of faith is directed towards something vaster yet—vaster than the immensity of this land, vaster than the monstrous evils that have taken place, vaster than all the betrayals and plotting of evil that the human heart can imagine.
"And that ‘still greater’ Vastness is the power and scope of the mercy of God revealed in Christ. We have touched the fringe of this Mercy, of this divine Vastness in these days… and this treasure, kept like a secret in the depths of Russian hearts, is coming to light once more."
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