Orsk, considering the reality of Russia, is a small town with a population of approximately 230,000 residents. In only 15 minutes by car (approximately 12 km), you can see the beautiful Ural mountains, reminiscent of, as some believe, the desert in the Holy Land. If someone would like to see forests extending over a huge expanse or mountains rising to great heights, they will not see it here. We have mountains (hills) that give way to the Kazakh steppe. In winter, we have a lot of snow, in the summer, the scorching sun, and one can encounter greenery in spring, until the temperature reaches 40 degrees (C°). The Ural River, which is the border between Europe and Asia, flows through the city.
Orsk lies in the territory of the Saratov Diocese and is the easternmost parish at the end of the diocese. Our deanery is spread out. It is 1100 km from one end to the other. Deanery meetings are usually organized four times a year so that we can meet all the Sisters and priests working in our deanery. Sometimes we have to travel 1000 or 1100 km to attend such a meeting. In Russia, one can experience the unity of the Church, the unity of the charism – service to God and others. In our deanery, there are priests and Sisters from Peru, Argentina, Austria, the USA, Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and, of course, from Poland ☺. It is 280 km to the next closest Catholic parish in our diocese in Orenburg, and 600 km to Chelyabinsk, which belongs to another diocese.
Our parish has 40 to 50 people on Sunday, and about 100 people came for Christmas (including people who came only to see Catholics celebrating Christmas and some Catholics who come twice a year). Such a small parish is conducive to closer contacts with people and one can quickly feel here as in one big family; everyone knows everyone by name. Every day we meet people of different denominations, mainly Orthodox and Protestants. However, for us there are no divisions, we are simply Christians. Maybe not everyone is so positive, but most are. Our city is located close to the border with Kazakhstan, which is why there are a lot of Muslims here.
In Orsk, we serve in the parish: we catechize children after Mass on Sunday, organize “Vacations with God” during winter and summer holidays, have recreation evenings for children in the summer. There are two centers at the parish in which we serve: St. Gerard’s Center and the Center of the Holy Family.
St. Gerard’s Center is intended for children and their families who need educational help, help with homework, etc. It is a kind of after-school program. In Russia, there are very many single-parent families: most often there is a mother who raises her children by herself. When children come home, they are often left alone. In our center, they can feel safe. Sr. Bernadeta Wróblewska serves in this center.
The Center of the Holy Family is located in our house. It’s purpose is to help children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and developmental delays. The Center was named after the Holy Family because only from the family does a child derive the strength, joy, experience and knowledge which are necessary to live in this world. The Holy Family offers the best example, showing that Jesus should be at the center of every family. The center offers group and individual classes for parents and children. Sister Marianna Chanina is responsible for the entire center and there are two more women working here, as well as volunteers who willingly help in group activities. They are like “Guardian Angels” for the children. Some of our children are unable to dress themselves, clap their hands, find it difficult to climb stairs, set the table, etc. One of the fruits of the center is that the parents have created a support group. While the children are participating in the classes offered for them, their parents can share their problems with each other. In this way, they feel that they are not alone, they receive the support they need so much.
Russia is a large country that needs our presence and support, our “being here”. For us, the most important thing in our mission is simply to accompany the people we meet, regardless of their religious beliefs (Catholics in Russia form a minority). Compared to other parishes, ours is not big, but the activities that the parish carries out: catechesis, meetings, visiting families, charity work in centers – is met with great gratitude by the people. They emphasize that, regardless of whether they are Catholic or not, they feel that they are surrounded by our prayers and can count on our support. As Nazareth Sisters, called to serve the family, we feel that we are fulfilling our mission. In each of the activities mentioned above, we serve the whole family: both parents and children. People are very grateful that Sisters are present in Orsk.
Please pray for us and for the people living here.
Sisters from Orsk: Sr. Bernadeta and Sr. Marianna