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Time for Mercy is always and everywhere: House of Mercy in Baranowicze.
After almost 50 years of break forced by political situation, we started working again in Baranowicze, BieloRussia. We build a convent called the House of Mercy. In a city where between the wars sisters took care of the most unhappy children living in orphanage, where they took care of the sick in hospital, where they did a lot of ecumenical work- right now, we try to face all the challenges of everyday life in Baranowicze; for the past 8 years, we try to do our best.
In the parish of Blessed Mother of Fatima in Baranowicze, we undertake pastoral works. Formation house is full of life: in postulate and novice, girls from BieloRussia and Russia are studying, so that in the future they can be the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family among native people.
Most of all, from the first day of our presence in Baranowicze, we organize various forms of charitable works. Everyday, our House of Mercy feeds 350 people. We help children from pathological families through taking care of them in our house; we try to meet the needs of children who come to us frightened and hungry. We take care of the sick, prisoners, elderly, disabled children, homeless, and children abandoned by their parents.
Everyday, we prepare 250 liters of healthy soup. There are 150 people coming to the dining room of our House of Mercy. They eat here and take some soup with them for other members of their families. We bring soup to homes with lonely, elderly, and disabled people. It's a service of meals on wheels which goes on all day long; it comes back to the house around 5 or 6 p.m. We help these people to accept their suffering, and we learn together the worth of old age, accepting certain inabilities, weaknesses, loneliness, and accepting the fact of being abandoned by loved ones. When we come with the soup, we often find people in cold and filthy place. We start with cleaning and building a fire with our own supplies of wood that we have in case of such situations happening everyday, etc. We visit hospitals, sick in their homes, and the poor. We buy medicine (in our hospitals, a sick person has to bring with him almost all supplies: medicine, vaccines, bandages, IV's, etc.). We bring food as any caring family would. We also serve in the prison on regular basis. According to the needs signaled to us by guards, we bring medicine, clothes, and grocery products. We also provide the prisoners with lessons on social skills and take care of their spiritual life.
Past year, cooperating with Children's hospital and delivery room, we helped children abandoned by their parents; we also help poor mothers. We already have our "first" children who were accepted by their mothers and taken back; it all happened thanks to financial and spiritual help provided by sisters. Last summer, we were able to organize retreat for mothers with complicated life, so that they could ignite in themselves the flame of maternal feelings. We know that there is need to continue such work and all that was done so far. Most of all, we know that we can't lose hope under any circumstances; it has to be enough for us and for those entrusted into our care who often fall into deep despair. Everybody, who would be willing to cooperate in our reading of the signs given to us by God rich in Mercy, is invited to help. We believe that with your help He will do great things.
sr. Nune Titojan
Pastoral-Ecumenical Work in Mohylew, Bielorussia.
Mohylew is a city located on both sides of Dniepr River; it has a population of 400,000. Majority of people are Orthodox. Catholic Church was given to people in 1989. To that time, Catholics gathered for prayer at "polish cemetery" in a chapel built Mrs. Leontyna Sianozecka's husband. Since the chapel is closed, the faithful prayed by graves. The faithful put the tablecloth, candles, crucifix, and photograph of a priest celebrating mass on one of the tables standing almost by every grave. After many years, I recognized that it was a photograph of holy mass in the church of St. Ludwig in Moscow (before renovation, of course). Sometimes, the priest from Lithuania would come and people would gather in someone's house. In 80's, our sisters were here too, but couldn't wear a habit. Casimira was the main person making sure that the church stays alive; after her, Genia from the Congregation of Angels took care of that. The tradition of praying the rosary lasted to this day. Everyday morning, before mass, people say rosary, litany, stations of the cross, and sing traditional songs for the intentions of the church. One of our parishioners recalls her arrival to Mohylew in 1958. Living in exile, together with her daughter, she decided to go back hoping to find an active church. Instead, they found a building that was closed, almost torn down, and turned into a warehouse. They cried, but never gave up. They started looking for live church and found it at the cemetery.
Our sisters came to Mohylew right after the beatification with relics of Blessed Boleslawa. We started our work in 1992. At that time, the church was being renovated. Two construction groups worked on renovation: conservation team of culture and art and another group hired by the pastor, Fr. Wladyslaw Blina. The first team planned their work for 30 years; the other was supposed to be done in 5 years. The work was tiring because few levels of paint had to be taken off from the walls and ceiling. Everybody worked really hard; all was finished in 5 years.
The church has two steeples which symbolically remind about stretched hands of Moses. One of them contains classrooms; the other has rooms, kitchen, office, and bathroom. Two sisters lived in the second steeple for 3 years. At that time, we worked in sacristy and corresponded with over 1,000 beneficiaries of the parish. Often, we would go to villages and small cities of our county to evangelize. The priest celebrated mass and heard confessions while sister prepared liturgy, taught religion, and said rosary with people. I remember those years with great emotion; faces of people waiting at cemeteries in cold club, private homes, schools, and building of ruined church. For two years, we had the opportunity to teach religion in five kindergartens and one school for special children. Children impatiently waited for sister, so did the teachers.
Today, in many places, priests and sisters stay permanently. With great difficulties, they build new churches, renovated old ones, and also serve in polish villages. We go to Slawgorad and Bychow; we also search for Catholics in Lenino and Gorki.
Many things in Mohylew changed. We took over teaching religion to children (Sisters of Angels who did that so far, gradually go back to working in the spirit of their own charisma and lead hidden life; for example, Sr. Marina works now in Correctional Facility in Mohylew). Work with children is never limited to just few hours of teaching religion. We visit children's families to have more personal contact with parents and check out children's living conditions. Majority of families are in need of financial and spiritual support. Many mothers raise their children by themselves; families are broken because of alcohol, infidelity, and inability to solve all family problems. Couples who have no obstacles to be married, we convince to do so; we encourage single mothers to go to confession and receive Holy Communion. Usually, it's a long way that needs a lot of prayer and gentleness. Every Saturday, we organize few hours of play, walk, prayer, and meal for children. We're in charge of children's choir consisting also of Orthodox children. Sometimes, Orthodox children come to religion classes and become members of Catholic Church, but it's not a requirement. Every break from school, (they have more breaks than in Poland: in the fall, winter, spring, and 3 months in summer) we organize children into age groups and, with the help of deacon and youth, we offer vacation with God for children.
One of the sisters works in the office as a secretary; she corresponds with sponsors since no parish is able to support itself. We work in sacristy and office of Spiritual Music Festival which will celebrate 10 years of existence. This festival has true ecumenical character and greatly influences church's music as well as religious culture in BieloRussia. From the beginning, sisters play an important role in organizing this ecumenical project.
We have new people constantly coming to church. We organize groups of preparation for sacraments. Practically, the vicar and deacon are taking care of people needing help. We accompany people on their journey to God. Sometimes, we visit them or invite them for dinner or coffee. We appreciate each sing of spiritual development that is visible to our eye. The ways of growing faith are amazing.
Lena came to church a year ago. In early teenage years she was an atheist and led not a very good life. When she became pregnant and complications showed up, she started praying: "God, if you exist, help my child." God helped the child, but she forgot to thank Him. When her son was seriously ill, she had to change her well paying job; faced with new problems in her life, she started praying again: "God, if you exist, I beg you, help me." God listened and helped, but she again forgot about being grateful. Life went on and everything seemed to be going well, but there was lack of true peace and joy. Then, somebody suggested: "go to church, start praying, and you will find peace." Sometimes, she stopped by church, but still something bothered her. One day, during Sunday walk with her son, she went to church. They walked through it and were about to leave. All of a sudden, they heard a laughter coming from sacristy and joyful conversation of young people. It made a great impression on Lena: "here is the true joy; that means, here is life." Shortly after, she and her son decided to prepare for baptism. "All changed in my life, she says, I am happy and can't stop thanking God for His great love."
Peter was a "soviet" businessman. I remember him coming to church in his leather coat and a tie, discreetly looking around. Then, without witnesses, he was giving lots of money to a sister in sacristy; then he left the church. After few years of my absence, I met the same Peter who now found a totally different treasure. He found Lord Jesus whom he receives everyday in Eucharist. Peter doesn't stop in believing that God will change his situation and he will be able to support his big family.
Katia sat by church one evening and cried. The pastor taking a walk around the church noticed her and asked if she would want to talk. She willingly agreed to conversation and talked about her marital tragedy; she mentioned divorce. After listening, the pastor gave her few suggestions as to what she should do. After some time, everything cleared up and both, Katia and her husband, came with flowers to thank for saving their marriage. After a year, they asked for baptism of their child. Currently, they go to church and slowly mature in ability to receive holy sacraments.
Being with people and being a part of their problems takes a lot of time, but nobody thinks of that time as lost. We entrust all their matters to God. We have the ability to participate at mass; in our church it is celebrated in the morning (polish) and in the evening (BieloRussian). We also have a chapel in our convent. We don't have very comfortable living conditions, but it's possible to live here. All sisters who live here, and the ones before us, put a lot of effort into everything. The house belongs to congregation; it has water, bathroom and city's sewage system. We still wait for gas; perhaps for Christmas we will have warmth in our house. The great advantage of our location is the fact that we have only 5 minutes to the church. During winter, the way is difficult because it goes uphill on wooden steps-at that time, it takes about 15 minutes to walk to church. The cardinal called our street the Valley of Josephat. Sometime ago, it was a river, Dubrowienka. Today, it looks like a very calm village by the river where dogs and wind make the only noise. The most important, however, is the atmosphere in our home; that's why we always go to it with joy.
sr. Edwina Łęgowska