EUROPEMission in the Caucasus
The first two
Oblates, Bro. Tomasz STOPKA, superior and treasurer, and Fr. Pawel KUBIAK,
parish pastor, arrived in the Caucasus on 18 December 2012. In September 2013,
Fr. Wieslaw KUBALSK joined them as associate pastor.
situated on the banks of the river Podkumok in the plains north of the Caucasus
mountain range, is one of the most important cities of the Krai (territory) of
Stavropol. According to the census of 2010, there were just under 143,000
inhabitants. The majority is Russian, although there is an increasing number of
citizens from other parts of the Caucasus, mostly Muslims. Pyatigorsk is also
the seat of government of the North Caucasus. The climate makes the city
particularly suitable for sanatoriums. So the most important industry is that
of health. There are also present the food industry, textile mills, metal
working and factories of various kinds. Currently the city has many building
sites. Unfortunately, occasionally there are terrorist attacks, which push the
Russians to swarm into the city. As for the religious aspect, there are 14
Orthodox churches, as well as other places of worship of various Christian
denominations and a mosque.
The church for
Catholic worship was built in 1844 by the Poles, as is seen in the inscription
in Polish on the facade. Until the beginning of 1990, it was used by the philharmonic
orchestra, but with the arrival of the first Catholic priest, it was possible
to rent it for liturgies. Then, over time, the Catholic community became the
only one to use it. It is a small church which, given its structure, is well
suited to the needs of the community today. The territory of the parish,
however, is very large. Near the church is the rectory with a kindergarten.
Both the roof of the church as well as the basement, which is too damp, need to
be updated. The Oblates succeeded some priests of the Congregation of the
Sacred Heart of the Irish province and are helped by nuns (two Mexicans and a Russian)
from a new order of the Poor Clares of the Holy Eucharist.
There are about
60-80 Catholics in the parish of the Transfiguration at Pyatigorsk, with 40-45
participating in Sunday Mass. This figure grows with the arrival of those who
come for a cure. The faithful of other places (Mineralnye Vody and Essentuki)
also attend the liturgies. The parish community is multinational: people have
inherited the Catholic faith from their parents. Children and youth are few,
but the situation was different before. Now, in fact, many have moved to other
cities for work.
The second parish entrusted to the Oblates is St. Therese of the Child Jesus, in Kislovodsk, about a 60 minute drive from Pyatigorsk. Here there are mostly Armenians. The liturgies are held in a private home where there is a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament. Some 20-25 people take part in Sunday Mass. This city too, where the railroad ends, is a cure center.
Another parish, Divine Mercy, is located at Novopavlosk (about a two hour drive). Here there is a chapel, some rooms for pastoral activities and an apartment for the priest. The parishioners come from Syria. There are many children and youth. About 70 attend Sunday Mass.
There are also three small communities of the faithful who are occasionally visited by the Oblates. Two are near Novopavlosk: Staropavlosk and Orlovka. The third is in Georgiyevsk where in the past, the Catholics of Grozny fled. Many have died and there remain only some old women. The parish here has a house.
The economic situation is very difficult. The clergy and the sisters manage with the help of the bishop. On the part of the Oblates, the mission needs humility and continual prayer. Much prudence will be needed in order to be able to carry on our ministry and not create conflicts and problems, given the situation of Russia and the Caucasus.
Typical of this diocese, as well as of Russia, the priests and sisters come from different countries and different religious congregations. At Nalchick, there are the Missionaries of Charity and priests from the community of John the Evangelist from France.
The greatest difficulty for the missionaries is loneliness and alienation as they confront the mentality of this world which is so different. Many priests “have worn out.” The only remedy to these difficulties is community life.
The mission of the Church and of other Christians in this region is also expressed in the mission to the little ones with whom Christ identifies himself: “Whatever you did to the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.” The inhabitants of the Caucasus may never become Catholics, Christians, but they will receive the gift of salvation through their works of kindness toward the little ones of Christ.
Ordinary pastoral work, such as visits to homes, to hospitals or prisons seems possible. The bishop has stressed the need for catechesis and daily preaching, stressing that the faithful have no roots, and when the priests whom they know leave the parish, the people leave the Church. It is necessary to lead them more deeply into the mystery of faith.
To conclude, relations with the Orthodox vary and in some places, are getting better. The Orthodox bishop of Pyatigorsk, for example, is very open and kind: they are beginning to realize that the Catholics are not a threat. (Fr. Pavlo VYSHKOVSKY, Delegation Superior of Ukraine)