Project of the Week: Success Story in Russia’s Arctic

Mass Offerings for 43 priests in the diocese of Saint Joseph, Irkutsk, Russia

With an area of 10 million km², the diocese of Saint Joseph in Irkutsk is larger than the entire country of Canada (9,985 million km²). Bordering on China, the Pacific Ocean and Alaska, it stretches across seven different time zones.

Scattered across this vast area are just 52,000 Catholics—whereas in Canada a 2011 cencus put 12.81 million Canadians adhering to the Catholic Faith. This vast area is currently ministered to by 43 priests in this single diocese [for about the same territory in Canada we have 7,000 priests working in 73 dioceses], and as you might imagine now, the territory to cover alone means they face enormous challenges.

The climate is extreme and rivals Canada’s territories in the Great White North with winter temperatures often dropping to 50° below—and in some places even colder. Yakutsk, for example, experiences polar temperatures down to as low as -70 °, making it the coldest city in the world. Winter in this part of Russia lasts for almost nine months, and just like our north—many places see very little daylight during these months. There are various Indigenous groups still living in this area, many of whom still practise shamanism, although most are Christian today.

The Salesian Fathers have a mission in Yakutsk and another in the town of Aldan around 500 km away. Every week the Salesians in Aldan visit the Catholic Yakuts living in a number of the surrounding villages. There are also other places, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away, where they can only visit once a year.

Like them, the other diocesan priests must travel very long distances in order to meet the scattered Catholic communities and bring them the Blessed Sacraments. They have to work in the most difficult of conditions and depend on the collections and Mass Offerings given by local Catholics for their survival. But these people themselves are very poor and can do little to support their priests.

Consequently, the Mass Offerings we send them are an enormous help. Last year, thanks to your help, we were able to support these 43 priests with Mass Offerings for a total value of $36,000.

Vicar General of the diocese, Father Włodzimierz Siek, wrote to ACN on behalf of his fellow priests to thank you, their benefactors, for this essential help.

It makes us realize that our benefactors are sharing directly in our apostolate, and it warms our hearts to think that we are not alone as priests in these vast wastes of Siberia. The bitter cold outside and the deep snow seem less frightening then. My heartfelt thanks to all of you for associating yourselves with our apostolate and sharing in our ministry through your support. We pray for you all, together with our Catholic faithful. May God reward you for your generosity!

Father Włodzimierz Siek
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