Russia — Catholicism flourishing in former communist country

| October 12, 2011 | 0 Comments

Father Myron Effing, 70, was born in Indiana but has had a long relationship with Nativity of our Lord in St. Paul through the late Father Patrick Lannan, a former pastor there. Father Lannan helped establish a sister parish relationship with Most Holy Mother of God Catholic Church in Vladivostok, Russia, where Father Effing is the refounding pastor. He also has founded or refounded eight other parishes in Russia while serving as a missionary for 20 years with the Josephite Fathers. He holds a master’s degree in astronomy from Cornell University in New York.

Tell us about who or what inspired you to start doing missionary work.

When the walls came tumbling down in Germany, it was clear that priests would be needed in the former Soviet Union. Since I knew some Russian from my years as a scientist and teacher in Minnesota, it seemed natural to offer to work in Russia.

Tell us a story about how a person in your mission experience has made a difference in your faith journey.

Boris was dying of cancer and he told his family that he wanted to be baptized. But he wanted to be baptized by a Catholic priest and only by a Catholic priest.  We didn’t know him or his family at all, but they called me.  I went to his bedside to baptize him, confirm him, anoint him and give him holy Communion. He died peacefully.  Since then, one by one, his wife and relatives have come into the church. I see how one person’s faith bears fruit in time.

What have you learned from the people you work with or serve? What do you believe they have learned from you?

I have learned from them the totally devastating effect of the lack of family life and the terrible results for women of abortion. The average woman here has had eight abortions, and for a while marriage was forbidden in Russia.  Even now, 80 percent of marriages end in divorce, so there is little family life.  How to re-establish family life after it has been destroyed? The effects of the lack of family life play havoc with men and women alike.

The Communists taught that there is no God and only stupid people believe in God. From me, I think they have learned that many intelligent people believe in God, and that even priests can be scientists and have a higher education. Now they feel it is OK to be a believer, even in an atheist society, and that we Christians never suffer alone, as we have each other and God to depend on.

Victor Anisimov, 37, met Father Myron Effing for the first time in 1991, when Anisimov was serving Mass outside the Catholic cathedral in Vladivostok. Since then, Anisimov started thinking about becoming a Catholic.

Tell us about someone at the mission who has helped you and how you were helped?

In 1993, Father Effing and Father [Daniel] Maurer invited me to work for the mission. It was an amazing experience that changed my life. I was witnessing the life and work of two missionaries starting great things for God. They founded Catholic communities in different places and I traveled with them as an interpreter. They began restoration of the church and I followed all the stages until restoration was completed. They started charitable activities and I brought many foreign guests to see the people they were helping. Looking back at those 18 years that we have worked together, I am still amazed to see [Father Effing’s] energy and creativity in mission projects. It seems like he never stops working and never runs out of new ideas how to serve God on this mission in the Russian Far East.

Tell us about how you have helped a missionary serving in your country.

My work at the mission has been changing with time. I was editor of the Vladivostok Sunrise newsletter in Russian. I was a volunteer at the Women’s Support Center. I translated many different official documents and articles about the Catholic faith from English to Russian. I worked as a guide for mission groups of Americans. For many years I was an official representative of the Vladivostok Catholic parish, visiting government officials, attending court hearings and public meetings. I worked at the Catholic summer camps and the Catholic youth conferences. Also, as a catechist, I was teaching children and adults, preparing them for different sacraments. For three years, I have been participating in the Alpha Course evangelization program, and for six years I have been organizing the Film Discussion Club.

How is your life different today because of your relationship with the missionaries?

In the Vladivostok parish founded by Father Effing I met Natasha, who became my wife. My three children now go to Sunday school and my son is an altar boy. And I am still working for the mission helping Father Effing.


Category: World Mission Sunday