Siberia Catholics Mark Decade of Religious Liberty

Vocations and Buildings Are Still Needed

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NOVOSIBIRSK, Russia, APR. 4, 2001 ( The Catholic Church in Siberia is marking the 10th anniversary of the return of religious liberty to these lands. But a post-Communist-era chill still lingers here.

Bishop Joseph Werth, apostolic administrator of Catholics in Western Siberia, distributed a prayer in churches, communities and Catholic homes, which commemorates the sacrifice of 20th-century martyrs, on which the Church has based her growth «in these last 10 years.»

On April 13, 1991, the Catholic Church was able to re-establish ecclesiastical structures after more than 70 years of state-imposed atheism. After the October Revolution in 1917, the Soviet government confiscated all the Catholic Church´s property.

This was followed in 1923, under Stalin, by the systematic and total elimination of ecclesial life. Churches were closed or turned into factories or warehouses; parishes were suppressed, and priests and faithful were deported or killed.

Then, in 1990-1991, the change began. The ban was lifted: It was no longer a crime to believe in God, to come together to pray. Today in these regions are an estimated 500,000 Catholics.

Problems remain, however. A 1997 Bill on Religions still restricts the activity of the Catholic Church, and the Church suffers from a lack of well-formed priests and laity for pastoral work in often widely dispersed parishes. Buildings are needed: churches for worship, and rooms for catechism.

Looking to the future, Bishop Werth encourages his people to praise God «for the young generations who are rediscovering the world of the spirit — they are the future of our Church and our country» and for the «vocations to the priesthood and religious life.»

He also asks God to forgive «our faults and sins, and for every day, every hour, that we failed to make good use of this time of grace.»

In the last five years, Aid to the Church in Need has provided about $7 million to build churches and parishes, form priests and religious, and provide transport for pastoral workers.

Bishop Werth´s office can be reached at:
Narymskaia 19/163
Telephone (3832) 21-61-09. Fax: (3832) 21-88-06.

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