“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Here is the goal and the outcome of battles fought for God, of the dangers confronted for His love; the reward for fatigue, the prize of so many labors: this is how the athletes of God attain the kingdom of heaven.”
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(from Fr. Carlos Miguel Buela’s article ‘Zacluchonnik’ on the great Cardinal Josif Slipyj)
July 31st to August 9th, were ten days in which we accomplished two intense and specific activities. The first was the diocesan Youth Conference, which was held in the city of Usurisk; and the second, a pilgrimage with our youth to the sites of Christian martyrs from the religious persecution. This pilgrimage was also made by a group of parishioners with Fr. José López a few weeks prior (we have included their photos as well as ours).
Youth Conference in Usurisk
The city of Usurisk is located approximately 430 miles south of Khabarovsk. The diocesan Youth Conference took place there, on the property of the Franciscan Friars, with an important group from United States participating: members of the movement FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students, founded by a layman, Curtis Martin. The theologian Scott Hahn and his wife, work with this movement, as do a number of other congregations, including our own).
The Franciscans have an enormous building there with a small chapel. This building serves as a work of mercy for the homeless, where they give assistance by means of food and clothing, the possibility to do some craftwork, and in some cases, helping the poor with the paperwork required in order to be incorporated into society. The conference lasted 6 days, and we could participate in different activities concerning the theme of “forgiveness”. Each day we had a conference, a meditation or consideration of a Biblical text, and the testimony of the youths regarding their conversion and love of the Catholic faith. All these activities were bilingual, in English and Russian. One of the days was dedicated to prayer, keeping silence during the day and taking turns in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night. Another day was dedicated to recreation, during which we could visit a typical Dacha (like a small farmhouse, but Russian) and swim in a small nearby lake. The last day was reserved for talents: presenting songs, poems, short plays, and our youth (together with our priests) presented the classic skit, “The Snakebite”, which was accompanied with its characteristic laughter and good spirit.
Our priests assisted at the conference with the celebration of the Mass and preaching, and one of the sisters, Mother Anastasia, gave a conference about forgiveness as found in the writings of Sor Lucia from Fatima. The conference concluded with the Sunday Mass presided by Fr. Kiprian, OFM, and from there we departed for Vladivostok to begin our pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage of the sites of Vladivostok
Sunday, August 6th, we arrived at Vladivostok, a city about 60 miles south of Usurisk. We were received by Augustinian priests and a congregation of American sisters who provided lodging for us.
On the first day of the pilgrimage we went to the Parish Church of Vladivostok which, during the persecution, was converted into an archive for the city. In this Church, five laymen who were persecuted and killed for their faith are commemorated. A well informed and well-documented historian, who has dedicated himself specifically to the history of the Church in the Russian Far East, told us of the events and adventures of the of the great apostles of the Far East region and of this city. A German architect and deportee began the construction of the beautiful Church of Vladivostok, which was finished later by a great bishop, Msgr. Karol Slivosky. After the persecution, he ended his life as prisoner in a small wooden house where he finally died. The bishop’s house is still standing, but it can only be seen from outside, as it is currently inhabited.
Another important finding -discovered not too long ago- is an old mass grave where it is estimated that more than 10,000 corpses were buried. A peasant from this town knew of it from his childhood: he saw the trucks arrive with the people who were destined to lie in those graves. He had made a small map at the time in order to locate approximately where the graves were. With the passing of time, God’s Providence desired that this place be revealed for what it was, for a road was recently built whose construction uncovered quantities of human bones, victims of the persecution. Two small monuments were placed on the site as a memorial, one from before the construction of the road, and a second later marking the important discovery.
We also had the opportunity to visit a place where several persons –also victims of the regime– were known to have died. Previously this had been an old bunker near the train station, where it is believed that the prisoners were kept while awaiting their transfer. Now there is a small orthodox chapel to commemorate the site, and the foundation has been laid for the construction of a new orthodox church to honor the martyrs.
During our travels we could also visit an old Catholic chapel, very small and abandoned, an orthodox monastery for women, and two museums: one of antiques, and the other of antique cars.
With this chronicle, we would like to give thanks to God for the blessings received during these days of apostolate, in particular, for the spiritual enrichment of knowing that in this country there were martyrs for Christ who intercede for us from heaven. They have watered the earth with their blood, and from this we await the flourishing of new and courageous Christians.
From the Province of
Our Lady of Fatima, Russia