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The Holy Week and Easter week of 2003, I had the great experience of going on a mission to Riga, Latvia and Moscow, Russia. Fortunately Mother Theresa's sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, speak English throughout the world, as I now know about four words of Russian - three more than the only one I knew before leaving: 'nyet'.
My first week in Riga I gave a retreat to the 6 sisters there who work with the poor and homeless, run a soup kitchen, and teach catechism to children. I performed all of the Triduum ceremonies for the sisters (and were joined by some other people who spoke English). I stayed at the Catholic seminary there, where many of the seminarians and a few of the professors actually knew English.
The city of Riga is fairly small (probably much like Lincoln), and so was nice to walk around. The population is over half Lutheran, so most of the Churches (which were built by Catholics in the 12th century, and were later "borrowed") belong to Lutherans, while the Catholics (about 1/4 the population) have gotten back a few of the smaller ones.
Since the freedom of the country from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the privatization has made some very rich, while others are much worse off now then they were before (not that they want communism back, but...) Thus the reason why the sisters are there to help the poor, especially with the problems with alcoholism (which is even worse in Russia - and passing out on the street can be fatal in their winter weather.) It snowed on April 26th!
Going to Moscow for the week after Easter, I stayed with the sisters there who run a men and women's shelter for the homeless, many of whom are handicapped / missing limbs. While saying mass for the sisters I spent more time this week touring with Fr. Peter Mitchell, who also came to Moscow to help the sisters.
Moscow is a massive city, perhaps surpassing most cities in the U.S. For example: their metro system has 11 different lines, a long metro train comes every 2 minutes, and almost every car is always full. The same for the buses. Conclusion: 1. not everyone has cars 2. there are tens of millions of people living there. The metro is also very deep - so it could double as a bomb shelter.
Moscow was very different than anywhere else I have been in Europe. The Russian Orthodox Church is present everywhere, and despite the attempts of communism (which closed and tore down many churches), the Orthodox are still quite strong (and oppressive of other religions). The architecture is a mix of beautiful churches, nicely designed architecture of the early 20th century (called Art Nouveau), and then the Communist and Stalin buildings (they may be functional, but definitely not beautiful).
Getting out of Moscow for a couple of days was also nice, visiting some ancient Monasteries and Church around Russia, and seeing the countryside and 'real' Russian people. (Plus the already reasonable prices got even cheaper: the ruble is currently worth about 3 cents.)
The trip also proved once again that it is a small world. In Riga I met an expatriate from Australia who has a cousin in Lincoln. In Vladimir, Russia I discovered at the Catholic church there a priest I knew from the seminary, Fr. MacLean Cummings (from Baltimore) who moved there as a missionary a year ago.
The many joys and occasional difficulties in my travels reminded me how we are all travelers, foreigners in a strangle land far from home, for we are all pilgrims on our journey towards our heavenly father. We we turn towards Christ this season that he will safely lead us to share in the glory of his resurrection. With my prayers in Christ.
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