MOSCOW, JAN. 15, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Conventual Franciscans are offering pastoral assistance in the rebirth of Catholic communities in Russia and giving help to the poorest, especially needy children.
Their work in the Russian Federation has awakened special interest, after a journalists’ ethics panel found fault with two Moscow media entities for publishing libelous reports against the religious.
According to Father Gregorio Cioroch, superior of the Franciscan Conventuals in Russia, 50 friars and postulants are currently working in the country.
In the city of Kaluga, for example, five religious, together with local authorities and directors of public schools, help feed 400 children, distributing food parcels once a week.
“The brothers of Kaluga do not have the means to organize a welfare dining room, yet everyone who asks them for help receives something to eat,” Father Cioroch added.
The superior said that, whenever possible, the religious give the children clothes and shoes.
“One of the largest centers for children operates in the St. Petersburg monastery of the friars,” he added. “The first floor of the monastery has been turned into a dining room for 40 children. There is no proselytism in the dining room.”
For five years the monastery in St. Petersburg has also made a dining room available for 300 homeless people.
There are 10 postulants in the Moscow monastery. “Every week, the brothers and young postulants of that monastery go to a home for the elderly, to be with these people who are abandoned by relatives and neighbors. The Franciscans wash the elderly, feed them, and talk with them.”
In the Russian capital, “the Franciscans also collaborate with Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s women religious, offering help to disabled children,” the superior continued.
The Franciscan said that there are instances of good relations with Russian authorities and with the Orthodox Church, as is the case in Chernyakhovsk, in the Kaliningrad region.
“In the center of the city, [the Franciscans] use premises offered temporarily by the mayor of the city for charitable work,” he said. “The Orthodox priest pays for the cooks, the food is supplied by the friars, who are responsible for managing this center.”
In Astrakhan, the authorities have restored to the friars the real estate that belonged to the Franciscans before the Bolshevik Revolution, so that they will dedicate them to charitable works. In that city, the religious offer temporary housing to immigrants from Central Asia.
One of the Catholics of the parish of that city, a teacher, has created a small orphanage for 10 children.
Over the past three years, the Franciscans have been faced with a great problem: The laws on the entry of humanitarian aid to Russia have become stricter, as some people enriched themselves with the aid programs. Now, the Franciscans must pay custom taxes for food and other merchandise they receive in order to carry out their charitable work.