Bishop Joseph Werth Returns to Ellis County for
Legleiter, Scott. "Bishop
Joseph Werth Returns to Ellis County for Visit." Ellis County Star, 15 June 1995.
|Dr. Robert Firestone, left, interprets the
messages of Bishop Joseph Werth of Siberia, right, during a
press conference on Tuesday. This is Bishop Werth's second visit
to the area in the past three years. He traveled to the area
to recruit local clergy and lay persons to come and serve the
Catholic Church in Siberia.
It was nearly three years ago when Bishop Joseph Werth of Siberia
first made a trek to the Volga German communities of western Kansas
to meet some of his distant relatives. He returned back to this
area earlier this week but with a different mission in mind--to
recruit both the clergy and lay persons to help serve the Catholic
church in his diocese in Siberia.
With the help of interpreter Dr. Robert Firestone, Bishop Werth
was able to communicate with members of the media at a press conference
on Tuesday. It was there where he spoke about the mission of his
Bishop Werth came to Hays after attending an International Conference
in Colorado Springs which dealt with the state of the church in
the Soviet Union and its needs.
Although the overall picture of the Catholic Church in the Soviet
Union is better than it was three years ago, Werth's diocese is
still in need of many things.
Werth said that they "don't have many resources," and
that he felt coming back to this area would "perhaps be helpful
for the church."
The Catholic Church was first dismantled in Russia in 1917. It
was at that time when the churches were seized by the Russian Government
and the practicing priests and nuns had to do their work "underground."
He also spoke of how many people practiced their religion secretly,
and how his own family would have daily prayers and a special vigil,
similar to the mass, on Sundays. Werth was also baptized by his
The rebirth of the Catholic Church then came on April 13, 1991,
but there were only three Catholic priests actively serving in the
area. "That's why it is so important to find priests,"
Since the rebirth, Werth has been amazed at the amount of religion
that is still remembered from the past. During the years where practicing
the Catholic faith was not allowed, people still said the prayers
and sang the hymns in their own private worship services.
"They have lost a great deal," said Werth. "But
it is remarkable how much they have retained."
He also added that they still practice the old-time religion and
they do not practice the changes which took place after Vatican
Today there are around 50 priests serving with largest diocese
in the world with anywhere from 100,000 to one million Catholics.
There are no exact numbers Werth said.
Also serving the area are around 50 nuns, including several from
the Ellis County area.
Werth relayed the trials that he has underwent to help make the
Catholic religion accessible to all. One of his main goals is to
build more churches for people to attend mass. Since the requisition
of the 100 churches in his area took place, only four have been
returned by the Government.
This has led to the building of new churches, but the increasing
inflation has made is virtually impossible. For example, a church
built today would cost three times as much as one built only two
In addition, the lack of resources and unreliable contractors have
made this effort "unconscionably difficult."
Werth did say that the new Government of the Soviet Union has been
very receptive of the new Catholic Church. He has never been visited
by the KGB, something that was common before the rebirth of his
One interesting fact that he did present was that the people of
Russia have more freedoms regarding their religion than we do in
America. This is partly because there is no system of laws currently
in place in Siberia.
"The faithful are not prevented in assembling for religious
services," said Bishop Werth. "The priests in the United
States are limited by laws."
Another purpose of Werth's trip to the area was to be reacquainted
with the people of the area. He spent Monday evening in Schoenchen
and was met by over 50 people who are distantly related.
He was born in the city of Schoenchen on the Volga River in Russia,
so coming to this area makes him feel right at home.
Werth was also the celebrant of a special mass on Tuesday evening
at St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Although it is impossible to visit all of the communities in his
diocese, the largest in the world, Werth enjoys visiting the smaller
communities which also make him "feel right at home."
Werth's trip to the area was coordinated by Fr. Blaine Burkey,
and following his trip to Hays, he will be traveling to North Dakota
for other visits before returning to Siberia later this month.
One final mission of Werth's is to help seek financial contributions
to continue to build churches in his diocese. The Volga German Society
of Ellis County has supported this effort over the past three years.
He stated that the people in his diocese are very generous to the
church, but are not able to give very much because of their low
"Our people are generous but they cannot finance the building
of churches," he said.
Anyone interested in donating money to Bishop Werth's diocese or
are interested in finding out how they can serve the Catholic Church
in Siberia may contact Fr. Blaine Burkey for more information.
Reprinted with permission of The Ellis County Star.