"Maria, you are a Catholic. You are never to forget who you are."
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I can't find the link to this story. But I thought in light of recent events that this story would have meaning to us here. If you only read the red highlighted part, you will get the point of the story. It's a good thing for us parents to keep in mind as we foster our children's Catholic identity.

Baba Maria finds way home after 57 years

by Father Anthony Corcoran, S.J.
(Father Corcoran is Bishop Werth's Texas-born vicar general, vice rector of the preparatory seminary at Novosibirsk, and pastor of Berdsk. He first studied Russian under an Agnesian Sister while attending Marian College at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin).

On Christmas Eve of 1998, "Baba Maria" came to us for the first time.

There had been more snow than usual, even for this part of Siberia, during early Winter. Opening the door of the little house serving as a chapel for the mission parish of St. Joseph's in Berdsk (in Central Siberia) is itself a chore when snow is high and the wind mockingly changes direction just as one pulls at the door handle. But the rough Winter is really no challenge for this Russian-German babushka (grand-mother), who has surely wrestled against harsher winds.

Children of the mission parish are just about to begin the rosary before mass, when Baba Maria, having successfully maneuvered the door, makes her way into the living room where mass is celebrated. She is wrapped in several layers of immaculately clean, but worn, sweaters and scarves.

At first, the few people gathered in the chapel scarcely notice her. It is not unusual for a new babushka to find her way to the church.

Baba Maria pauses before the crucifix in the middle of the room, and crosses herself from left to right. She is a Latin-rite Catholic. In fact, she finally found our church precisely by crossing herself as we Latin Catholics do when she went to light a candle in the town's Russian Orthodox church.

The Orthodox priest was called over when the Orthodox babushkas saw her doing this. He asked her if she was German, and when told that she was, he informed her that there was indeed a "Polish church" (meaning, a Roman Catholic church) in the city of Berdsk. He described to her how to find us.

Maria looks at one of the other babushkas in our tiny chapel and asks if she is in a Roman Catholic Church, "Where is the picture of the pope?" Baba Liza assures her that it is a Roman Catholic Church and points to the picture of John Paul II. Baba Maria stands silently for a minute, then announces, "I am a Catholic. I daily pray the rosenkrantz (rosary), and was baptized in the Volga region as a baby. I have waited for this day for my whole life, and I have found my church."

The other babushkas began to exchange a few words with her in their own dialect of Volga German. She only then begins to unwrap her layers of winter clothing, as she tells us of her 57 year journey to this moment.

Her story, if striking, is neither more nor less dramatic than those of our other babushkas. She was six years old the night Stalin's troops descended upon her tiny German village near the city of Saratov. Her family, along with virtually every other resident of the village, were brought to the city and packed into cattle cars.

That night was cold, very cold, and they had to wait for what seemed like endless hours. The train did not move. She tried to sleep standing up, wedged between her parents, her tiny hand in that of her mother's. It was all the more jolting when the soldiers suddenly threw open the gate to the car, and the harsh wind slapped across her face.

The soldiers called out only two names, those of her father and her mother. To this day she does not know why they were called. Of course, at that moment, she could never have grasped that these were the last few seconds she would ever spend with her mother and father.

Her mother immediately spun around to her and commanded, "Maria, you are a Catholic. You are never to forget who you are. Do you hear me?"

The little girl did not answer fast enough, and the mother repeated, "Do you hear me? You are a Catholic!"

These were her mother's last words to Maria. Even as a small child, she realized the impact of these few words. For years, on the collective farm for orphaned children and later in the factory where she worked, Maria kept these words, and kept them secretly.


She was obviously a very bright young girl and tells of how she often worried that her parents had never had a Christian burial. She kept her promise to her mother by saying the prayers that her parents and grandparents had taught her at home as a small child.

Many years later, after perestroika, Maria joined her son and his family in the town of Berdsk. She helped to keep house and, most importantly, worked in the family dacha (garden). On holy days, she would go to pray at the Orthodox church.

Baba Maria returned the next day, still exuberant about finding the church. She told us that during the previous night she had had a very real dream in which her mother came to her, dressed as she had been on that last night that they were together in 1941. Astonished to see her mother standing over her bed, Maria asked her how she had found her after so many years. She knew in the glance that she shared with her mother that they had found each other again in the church.

Maria had not yet made it to First Communion and Confession in the Volga Region before the forced exile, so the Polish sister who works at the parish prepared Maria to receive the sacraments.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, she made a profession of faith.

I paused in reading the Creed to her every few lines and asked her if she believed what we were reading together, "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty." She would look at me and ask, "Does he believe it?" pointing to a picture of the Holy Father. I answered, "Yes, of course," and she would shake her head and say, "Yes, I believe it." At the end of the creed, I asked her if she believed all we read, and she said, "If my people (the Catholics) believe it, then I believe it."

She told me that she did not have a good education, and could speak neither Russian nor German very well. She then continued to explain that, although she was not very knowledgeable of the faith, she believed that Jesus becoming a person changed everything. "If I believe that God became a person, and then died and rose from the dead for the love of sinners like us, then this changes the way that I behave toward every sinner I meet ? at the market, on the street, among my people. If it doesn't, then I don't really believe." (And this without a doctorate from a Jesuit University!)

We celebrated a memorial mass for Baba Maria's parents at the same time, and she received her first communion. She has not missed a mass or event at the church since the day she first came through the door, nor has she ceased thanking God for making the impossible possible.

I recount Baba Maria's wonderful story here because she is representative of the foundation, or re-foundation, of Roman Catholicism in the former Soviet Union. Catholics find their way to church. In doing so, they are coming home.

Catholics make up a very small percent of the general population, but there are at least a few Catholics in most villages and cities throughout Siberia. Many have still not seen a priest. We hear stories from our people of Catholics who still find it difficult to believe that there are churches in towns near to them.

Other Catholics still fear admitting before their neighbors that they are Catholics. Some of the babushkas tell stories of sects which will try to convince Catholics that they too are Catholic. One of the highest priorities of the Church at this time is to locate these people. This is proving to be no simple task.
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"Maria, you are a Catholic. You are never to forget who you are." - by verenaerin - 01-26-2012, 10:41 AM



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