It all began with a photo. An old photo in which the winding road seemed to be endless. I was delighted with the expanse in this picture. And the silence. A simple photo, one of many in the album. Just as God’s Word, which falls into a broken heart, will not give you peace until you take care of it, so this image was giving me no peace, raising a desire to live in this silence and expanse someday.
When I was still a teenager, I had the desire to go on mission, shyly dreaming of serving on African soil alongside the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit. When I entered Nazareth (thirty-something years ago… ;)) I did not think that I would find the path from the photo, that I would live in a house on the steppe, on Kazakh soil, in the middle of Central Asia… Well, God fulfills dreams… in another time, another place, in other circumstances of nature. Every day I bless God for this experience – of finding Him right here – in the Eucharist, in His Word, in the people He puts on my path, and I am asking for the grace of faith and fidelity in the mission to which He has invited me.
Our Sisters came to Kellerovka at the beginning of August 2012. This was not the first home of our Congregation in Kazakhstan (previously in Karaganda and Ekibastus). Since 2013, every summer I used to come with volunteers for a month of service in one of the local parishes. But in the summer of 2017 – I stayed “for longer”… At home on the periphery of faith, human poverty, both material and spiritual – in our mission in Nazareth on the steppe.
Kazakhstan. A country in Central Asia, on the Caspian Sea, nine times larger than Poland, whose current capital is Astana. It borders Russia in the north, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the south, and China in the east. In the years 1936-1939, by order of Stalin, about 70,000 Poles were deported to this country behind the Urals, and with them Germans, Ukrainians and Belarusians. Today, around 100 nationalities live in this land of martyrs. 70% of them are Islamites. Slightly more than 20% are Christians, of which only tens of thousands of Catholics. They speak Russian and Kazakh, they work seasonally – on thousands of hectares of fertile land rented to state-owned companies. Plain lowlands and highlands, which turn from the south into deserts, are most of the surface. In the east, along the borders, the high picturesque Altai and Tien Shan Mountains stretch. The dry, continental climate means that the lowest temperatures in winter reach -45 degrees Celsius and in summer the highest up to +40 degrees C.
The longer I stay here, in this vast expanse of steppe and fields stretching for thousands of kilometers, in this seemingly uninteresting place, I discover its countenance is full of contrasts. On the one hand – a country full of life, full of wonderful modern solutions. On the other hand, there are places where water is still drawn from wells, where there is no electricity for weeks, and where the bus stops every two days. I meet different people here, and each of them is a separate story. I listen to them with emotion, realizing how much they have suffered, intertwining their fates with the history of the nations inhabiting this country. Life is harsh here. It is hard to get a job. After the fall of communism, and with it that of the sovkhozes and kolkhozes, each family received a piece of land. Unfortunately, there was a lack of appropriate equipment and rental was very expensive, so people were not able to farm this land. Some sold their land, others leased it for cultivation in exchange for grain, flour or hay. Thanks to this, they also gained the opportunity to work for the landowners. Seasonal, poorly paid, but always work.
We live (Sr. Letancja, Sr. Zuzanna and I – Sr. Kazimiera) in a small house, similar to many in the village. But ours is unique because of the constant presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We take care of the parish community center – a “mini preschool”, we serve in the church and in the sacristy. Together with the parish priest we travel to 9 villages so that the Eucharist can be celebrated there as well. We try to prepare those who want to receive the sacraments. We visit the elderly, the sick, and often very lonely people. We lead a group of mothers in prayer, we enable our young people to participate in the Movement of Pure Hearts. What we can offer is only time, a kind word, a moment of conversation. Sometimes it is simply presence, ears open to listen and a heart to love those whom God has given us here. Regardless of nationality, skin color or language, we plant, sow and water. And we believe that God will make it grow.
I would like these few “postcards” that I will send from Kazakhstan to be my invitation to a “walk” through amazing places, to reach beyond the horizon, to admire the simplest, and certainly an invitation to meet a living church – lonely, suffering, experienced, but as beautiful and strong as flowers in the steppe.
By Sr. Kazimiera Wanat
At the beginning of 2021, on January 18, Sr. Angela Marie Mazzeo, Superior General, began her visitation in the Province of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The first home visited was in Loreto, Italy. Sr. Angela Marie went there together with Sr. Speranza Grzebielec, General Councilor. This place, so loved by our Mother Foundress, is important for our spirituality and identity also today. Prayer in the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto and the Holy House is always a great grace and blessing. The Sisters ministering in Loreto, in the silence of the House of Nazareth, embrace all the Sisters with their daily prayers. The visitation ended on January 22.
On January 24, the visitation of the Motherhouse on Machiavelli Street in Rome began. This time Sister Angela Marie was accompanied by Sister Alina Furczyk, Assistant General. It was a special meeting in the house where the presence of our Mother Foundress is so alive. It was an amazing time of encounters and a mutual strengthening in faith. Since there are in the community Sisters who have lived in this place for several decades, they willingly shared their memories about Sisters, events and the history of the house during recreation. The visitation ended on the evening on January 29.
At the end of the visitation, the Sisters prepared a wonderful gift: from March 4 to 12, each day in the Sisters’ chapel, a Mass will be offered for Sisters from all the Provinces and Region of the Congregation. In this way, the Motherhouse community desires to unite itself in prayer with all the Sisters in the Congregation and to pray for them for all the graces needed.
3/4 – General Administration and the mission homes
3/5 – Holy Family Province
3/6 – Most Holy Name of Mary Province
3/7 – Most Holy Name of Jesus Province
3/8 – Holy Spirit Province
3/9 – Jesus the Good Shepherd Province
3/10 – Blessed Martyrs of Nowogrodek Province
3/11 – Mary of Nazareth Province
3/12 – St. Michael the Archangel Region
One day at work, one of my colleagues casually asked me what I was doing over the weekend. I told her that all our sisters in Australia were coming together for our annual meeting, or Provincial Gathering. Her next question was: what does that mean?
Our Provincial Gathering is a highlight of the year for me. Not only is it the time when our sisters come together to discuss issues facing our province, but it is also an opportunity for us simply to be together, to share joy, laughter, and fun! This year, our gathering looked a bit different due to COVID-19 restrictions and limitations. Our meetings were shorter, and we also faced the new challenge and opportunity of online connection with our sisters in Perth joining us via Zoom. Sr Helen Tereba, who is in Rome preparing to return to Australia, also joined part of our meeting online.
Reflecting on the days that have just passed, my mind goes to the Call of our 2019 General Chapter, held in Rome. The theme developed from this important meeting of our congregation was: Listen! Be Grateful! Love! Thinking about our own smaller gathering here in Australia, the Chapter Call was very visible for us during our days of being together.
Each day we were called to LISTEN. Fr Michael Hansen SJ, invited us to reflect on and share our thoughts regarding the Holy Spirit working and moving within our communities. A highlight from Fr Michael’s input was the opportunity to reflect on and share with one another how the Holy Spirit encourages joy within ourselves and in our communities. Our provincial leader, Sr Margaret Kozub, and her council encouraged us and gave us important information and updates, and several sisters ministering in different areas shared their experiences. We had the opportunities to discuss issues with one another and to hear one another’s opinions. I felt a lot of hope participating in these open discussions and in listening to others.
A beautiful moment to BE GRATEFUL was witnessing two of our sisters, Sr Julia Deptula and Sr Jean Wojcik, celebrate their 50th and 60th anniversaries of religious life. We marked these milestones with beautiful Masses celebrated in their intentions, as well as a joyful meal together. As a sister just beginning her religious life, living fifty or sixty years in community seems a long way away. I felt such emotion, gratitude and pride hearing Sr Julia and Sr Jean renew their vows and share their own feelings of gratitude and grace. Sr Jean shared with joy how happy she has been in community, and Sr Julia spoke beautifully about how she feels God’s love and call in her life. More to come in a special jubilee article!
We also had the opportunity to farewell and bless our Sr Maureen Joseph Stempko, who will begin a new journey of ministry with our sisters in England, which is part of the Good Shepherd Province. We gave thanks for the many years in which she has lived and served in Australia, and for her presence among us.
Our time together is always a time of sharing LOVE. Our days were full of love – whether it was through smiles and greetings, through the efforts of sisters presenting information and materials for us, preparing our liturgies and times of prayer, or providing delicious food. Our times together as a province always fill my heart with love – love for the different gifts of the sisters, and love in simply being with them: my sisters and my family.
We look forward in hope to the future of our Holy Spirit Province. May we continue to Listen! Be Grateful! Love!
By Sr Sophie Boffa csfn