As you know Father Alosza visited us this weekend just gone by. Here is the text of his address that has kindly been translated for us.
In one of his letters, St Paul writes that he is glad of weaknesses, humiliations, constraints, persecutions and distresses for Christ's sake and concludes that he is strong when he is weak.The modern world and the people in it strive to be independent, to rule, to control and dominate, to have power, status, respect and so forth. The Apostle Paul, however, presents an understanding that is in complete contrast. The logic of the Gospel is different, in that God readily accepts, indeed is with those who are mindful of their sins and insignificance, who understand that God, God alone, is needed in their lives to live, to truly live.
I’ve come from Kazakhstan to be with you once again, from a missionary land marked with the blood and the pain of so many innocent people. Kazakhstan is a Muslim state, dominated by Islamic culture and the Kazakh language. The country is huge and so the distances separating us from each other are vast. When I talk about Kazakhstan, I try to speak about several aspects, ones that cannot be separated from the history of my parish.
Firstly, the story of people deported, those taken and forced onto trains, into cattle wagons, wagons normally used for moving animals, and transported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Very often along the way they were fed with herrings (which were very salty), but given nothing to drink. Then at the next station the wagons were hosed, and as the water seeped through the rooves and dripped down from the ceilings, people grasped at the droplets, longing to quench the thirst which consumed them. When people died on the moving train, the doors were opened and their bodies flung out as the train continued on its way.
Many a mother had to watch her own child die from fever or hunger, or see her child run after the wagon because it didn’t make it back in time, after leaving to search for food and clothing.
Dear brothers and sisters, I am not telling you all this just to arouse pity or cheap sentiment, nor does this come from books or magazines. This is the reality that surrounds me every day. I’m telling you all this because my parish is made up of such people: the deportees and their descendants.
For these people, the ones transported to Kazakhstan, their final destination was referred to as “the point”. First transported to Tayinsha, a small town along the railway, they were thrown off the trains and, either by truck or by cart, taken out into the steppe. There a stake was driven into the ground, a pole with a number, and from that moment on that number marked home; and all around there was only the steppe, steppe and more steppe. Those fortunate enough to arrive in summer or autumn still had time to do something. For those who came in late autumn or winter had much less of a chance. People dug holes in the ground and over them built pit-houses from cob, which is clay mixed with straw. One of the deportees recalls waking up in one of these houses in winter with his hair frozen to the wall. In Kazakhstan this winter, it was 45 degrees below, and a few weeks ago it was 50°C in the shade. This heat usually lasts for a few months. These are huge extremes, huge variations.
What I’m going to tell you about now will be fiction for many, something about which they don’t want to hear, and can't believe happened in the not too distant past. Many have not even heard about it. For me it is a stark reality for two reasons in particular: firstly, I in fact come from such a family of deportees and secondly, it is among such people, those I’ve already talked about, that I work.
One can ask oneself the question: what is the purpose of all this? Why such suffering? Why all this pain? Why so may tears shed by mothers and fathers? Why so many broken hearts and families torn apart? What sense can be made of all this suffering in life? Often we will not have an answer, for there is no possible answer that makes sense of all this. For me, what is important and remains a testimony to the truth, is that God stayed faithful to these people. For me they are witnesses to His fidelity and also demonstrate that nothing and no one is able to break the human spirit, which is strong and rises above that which is temporal, ephemeral.
Secondly, priests were also deported. One such priest was Fr. Wadysław Bukowiński. I always tell people about him because for me he is an example of God's concern for His people. Altogether, he spent about 15 years in prison. His first sentence was for possessing a copy of the Holy Bible. Just for that, he spent 5 years in prison!
Sometimes I ask myself how many people there are, who call themselves Catholics, Christians who have the bible on a shelf and only take it down a few times a year, or is used as a stand for a pot plant or to prop up the leg of the kitchen table.
We all yearn for love, respect, for someone who will keep telling us that they need us, that they love us, that they won't leave us. Instead we look for it in people, in technology, grasping at everything that we can find. Yet we don't turn to the source, to the Holy Bible, where God speaks to each and every one of us saying: be not afraid, I love you. Be not afraid, I am near. Be not afraid, I want to be your guide. At the same time, this same God requires us to change how we behave, make changes in our lives so that we put Him above all else.
Fr. Bukowiński spent about 5 years in prison just for having a bible. On release, he often worked during the day as an ambulance or taxi driver, but at night he went from house to house preaching the Gospel, hearing confession, presiding at weddings, celebrating Holy Mass. I could say so much more about such things, but there is not the time.
Fr. Bukowiński took three days to die, alone and abandoned. He had the opportunity to return to Poland, the opportunity to go back to his homeland, but he didn't do that. He gave up his Polish passport, and took a Soviet one. For he knew that would allow him to reach more people, to move more freely among them, reaching the most remote. To this day we don't know where he had his home. Most probably he didn't have one but he would go from house to house preaching the Gospel and meeting people.
In his journal he once wrote that when he was moving from one town to another, and was travelling by carriage, his luggage fell off. As he bent down to pick it up, at that moment "I saw and understood" - and these are his words that speak now - "that my presence is needed among these people, that God wants me to be here, that my place is with them." He goes on to write that if he had the chance to choose anew, there is nothing in this world for which he would exchange this way of life. He would choose the same because these people needed him.
My dear people, this is the reality that in which the Church in Kazakhstan was born. These people made it through trying times and passed on their faith to others. Our parish consists of the mother church and four filial chapels. These chapels in reality constitute little parishes, in each one we have to travel to the sick, to married couples, educate the children and the youth, celebrate Mass every Sunday and so on. For us it is the great distances and conditions that make things particularly difficult. Distances that are significant: in December alone I travelled over 5,000 km, hearing confession, preaching the Gospel, leading retreats. Sometimes to go to confession myself I have to travel 140 km to a neighbouring priest. Often we arrange things so that he sets off from his end and I from mine. We meet half way and in the middle of the Steppe we hear each other's confessions. The roads are very poor. Up to now I've had five accidents, three of which were very serious, and it was a miracle that I survived or wasn't crippled.
The reality of the conditions in which we live are also not easy. We live in a very small house built for a single family. There are two of us. The house is breaking apart at the corners, that is, the corners are coming away from the core structure. My room is so tiny that I haven't even got the space to put up a shelf for books. I've got something that likens to a desk, and also a chair and a bed.
In our parish we work together with some religious sisters. They live over the road from us. The conditions they have are even worse. The roof leaks. They have no toilet in the house. Just imagine what it must be like to have to use a privy (a toilet in a small hut outside) when it's 40 degrees below! Not too far from our home (about 30 km) there is an open pit mine of uranium and this is the cause of many deaths from cancer.
When I stand here before you, it is to bear witness to the faith of these people and the faith of the missionary Church. There is only one Church. There is no 'our' church and 'your' church'. There isn't a different church in London, and another in Washington and yet another in Manchester. Every Sunday we profess that we believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. The Church by her own nature is missionary , open to different peoples, cultures and nations. Standing here I ask you for your prayers for missionaries. For those who work in distant lands and in difficult circumstances. In order that they don't lack strength hope, courage, and perseverance. I also ask once again for your financial support.
We, as priests in Kazakhstan, cannot go to schools to teach, to universities or hospitals to work, because a new law has been passed that strictly prohibits this. Moreover, to celebrate Mass in my own parish or hear confession I have to ask the authorities for permission. And if I have the necessary consent, I can't go and work in another parish, because for that there can be criminal sanctions, a fine or even imprisonment. That is the reality of the Church here. We support ourselves mostly by donations from people with kind hearts and from trips like this. Therefore I ask you for financial support for our mission and the work that we do. Our needs are great. For example, for the winter we must buy a wagon load of coal. Altogether that comes to around £5,000.
We cannot undertake missionary work which is specifically directed at children. We cannot open soup kitchens for the poor. What we need is to persevere in these difficult circumstances because the state forbids many things. As for my part, what I can assure you of and promise are our prayers for our benefactors, for those who help us, for those who support us financially, and pray for us.
To end, my dear brothers and sisters, I would like to wish you above all, that as Catholics you are proud to be Christians, that you have your own church and priests, and that you have easy access to all things spiritual. That you can be nourished by the Holy Bible. That you are not required to submit it for review, censorship, or scrutiny.
Be proud that you are Christians and do not be afraid to bear witnesses to your faith amongst those with whom you live and work. Be not afraid to pray and read the Holy Bible, therein is life. Nor be afraid to devote your life to God because He wants to be the priority in your life and He is faithful.
Sometimes He does not ease our suffering but He does help us to bear it, often through the help of others, through having a strong faith, through greater hope, and great love and that with all my heart is what I wish, for all of you. In closing I would like to express my most heartfelt gratitude for every donation made today after Mass in aid of our mission. Thank you.
|The roads - of poor quality and made much worse by the severe winters -45 degrees.|
|Another view of the road|
|The snow starts to fall - winter is on its way|
|The presbytery - as you can see in need of serious attention|
|Father refers to the structure of the presbytery where he lives|