EUROPE/RUSSIA - From Lisbon to St. Petersburg and beyond: the "continuous pilgrimage" of young Russian Catholics, in dialogue with Pope Francis

Thursday, 6 July 2023 youth   world youth day   pope francis   local churches   pilgrimages  


St. Petersburg (Agenzia Fides) - A "continuous pilgrimage" which, from Lisbon, passes through St. Petersburg and arrives in each of the small Catholic communities scattered throughout the territory of the Russian Federation, so that no one, wherever they are, is left behind. This is the ambitious idea behind the "Russian Youth Meeting" ("Vserossijskaja Vstreča Molodëži"), which will be held in St. Petersburg from August, 23 to 27, and which will also be an opportunity for a "long-distance dialogue" between young Russian Catholics and Pope Francis. The event, now in its tenth edition, was conceived as a second stage of the World Youth Day in Lisbon (August 1-6), and will bring together around 400 people, including participants and organizers. The Portuguese capital will also welcome a delegation of 18 Russians, led by Father Markus Nowotny, responsible for formation activities and treasurer of the Catholic Seminary of St. Petersburg, who will tell the participants about their experience during the World Youth Days at the end of the August. The most anticipated event of the St. Petersburg stage will be the "live" streaming with Pope Francis. At a historical moment when it is very difficult for the citizens of the Federation to travel to Europe, the Catholic Church of Russia responds to the needs of all its faithful, even those who will not be able to travel to Lisbon or St. Petersburg. As part of the third stage of the "Endless Pilgrimage", the participants will return from St. Petersburg to their own communities, scattered across the vast territory of the Russian Federation, to share what they experienced in the days at the end of August, and - for the 18 young people who went to Portugal - also to report on their experiences in Lisbon at the beginning of August.
Pending the announcement of the day and time when Pope Francis will be live, WYD in St. Petersburg will offer catechesis during the first half of the day. Divided into groups of about thirty participants scattered across the various parishes of St. Petersburg, a city that currently has eight Catholic places of worship, the participating youngsters will experience moments of reflection that will focus on the quote chosen by Pope Francis as the motto for WYD in Portugal: "Mary set out and travelled in haste" (Lk 1:39). The catechesis, based on the working materials issued for participation in Lisbon, will involve the active participation of the young people, leaving ample space for discussion, as was the case during the synodal process at parish level, when 82 working groups were formed in Russia (see Fides, 4/ 7/2022). Since the theme of the event is linked to the Gospel episode about Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the pilgrimage of the participants begins in the parish of the Visitation of Mary with the opening service and an introductory evening. The second half of each day includes visits to the city's various Catholic parishes and the celebration of mass. A varied program is planned for the evenings, in which moments of communal celebration will alternate with moments of personal and communal prayer. The youth, who come from the four dioceses of the ecclesiastical province of the Catholic Church in Russia and from 54 cities of the Russian Federation, will be welcomed by the Catholic parishes and families of St. Petersburg. They will be accompanied during these intensive days by all five bishops as well as by priests and religious who are active in the pastoral care of young people in the four dioceses.
As for the course of the virtual meeting with Pope Francis, some testimonies from young Catholics from the Russian Federation will precede the Pope's reflections. On the last day, after a moment of summary synthesis of the event, the participants will take part in the closing Mass together, which will mark for the young people the beginning of the mission of witness in their own parishes and hometowns. "The main goal of this type of event is undoubtedly to provide an opportunity to see one's faith, church membership and commitment to the mission to which one is called grow", explains to Fides one of the organizers of the event, Oksana Pimenova, deputy director of the St. Thomas Institute in Moscow and is also responsible for youth activities in the Archdiocese of the Mother of God. "The young generations", she continues, "are called to contribute to the renewal of their home communities according to their way of life. We organizers try to do our best to encourage people to encounter Christ and then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses of that encounter".
The experience of belonging to a reality that transcends federal borders can be facilitated through events of this type, especially when the participants are young Catholics, who often do not have many opportunities in their daily life to meet other members of their own Christian denomination."Events like this", Oksana continues, "help to live and strengthen the experience of unity. Although the Catholic Church in Russia consists of small communities scattered over a vast area, we are connected by a 'chain of handshakes': we don't all know each other personally, but we often have mutual acquaintances and similar moments help us to make communion and friendship grow among us. Being with people so different in terms of origin and vocation means recognizing oneself as part of a large family that knows no borders and whose members, despite their differences, are called to be together".
The ecclesiastical province of the Catholic Church in Russia consists of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow and its three suffragan dioceses: the Diocese of St. Clement in Saratov, the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk and the Diocese of the Transfiguration in Novosibirsk. Since Catholics in the Russian Federation make up less than 1% of the total population, they tend to be small or very small comunities, which sometimes see the presence of a priest only very rarely during the year. There is no precise information about the total number of Catholics in the Russian Federation. According to a recent statement to RIA Novosti news agency by Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, who has headed the Archdiocese of the Mother of God since 2007, the number of baptized Catholics in the country is less than one million. Furthermore, due to the difficulties linked to the recent conflict, the presence of foreign Catholics, who represent a significant part of the total number of Catholics in the Federation, has recently decreased significantly. (CD) (Agenzia Fides, 6/7/2023)