On the History of the Bishopric, Transfiguration of the Lord

Zur Geschichte des Bistums, Verklaerung des Herrn

Rotzsche, Wolfgand J. "On the History of Bishopric, Transfiguration of the Lord." Volk auf dem Weg, October 2007, 18-19.

Translation from the original German to American English is provided by Alex
Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

On April 13, 1991, an Apostolic Administration was established for the
Catholics of West Siberia, and Joseph Werth was appointed Apostolic
Administrator, with his headquarters in Novosibirsk.

Bishop Jospeh Werth in Front of the Church Entrance

At the time, the Administrative Administration comprised the entire Asiatic
portion of Russia, and the diocese was the world's geographically largest
diocese covering 13 million square kilometers [ca. 4.7 square miles], with a mere three clerics. From many parts of the world, priests, nuns and
catechists would come to bring about the build-up of the Catholic Church in Russia. Between 1992 and 1997 the Cathedral "Transfiguration of the Lord" was erected in Novosibirsk. The building of the modern church structure was essentially made possible by donations from German Catholics.

On February 11, 2002 Pope John Paul II established four autonomous dioceses, whereby the Catholic church structure was transformed from a provisional one to a regular form. Today, the size of the bishopric "Transfiguration of the Lord" is eleven times that of all of Germany. It contains thirteen parishes that exist for the care of 250,000 Catholics and other people - other sources put this number at half a million. Caring for souls are 75 priests and an equal number of nuns from religious orders. In the meantime, local young people are entering those ranks. Every year, several men from the diocese report as candidates for the priesthood and enter the only seminary for priests in Russia in St. Petersburg, which was established in 1993. A prerequisite for admission to the seminary "Mary, Queen of the Apostles" is a two-year stint in a pre-seminary. The supra-diocesan pre-seminary in Novosibirsk was founded in 1993 and since 1997 is housed in a building next to the Cathedral "Transfiguration of the Lord."

The history of the Church beyond the Urals began with the opening up of Siberia in the year 1600. At the time, merchants, engineers, officials, and workers came to Siberia. They were of Polish, Lithuanian, and German nationality, and among them were many Catholics. Polish and Lithuanian freedom fighters had been banished to Siberia by the Tsars. With all their power, Catholics in Siberia insisted on having their own parishes and building churches. In the Volga region, it should be said, there already was a flowering church life. From 1763 on, Germans emigrated to get away from famine in Central Europe, and they settled in the Volga region and adjacent to the Black Sea. Soon villages, cities and, along with them, churches and communities, were founded. A bishopric was established in Saratov.

Following the October Revolution of 1917, the Germans were dispossessed and their churches were destroyed. More than a hundred priests were exiled, killed, or, like their faithful, managed to get away to Kazakhstan. In that area, however, even before the outbreak of the Second World War, the final church was destroyed and the last priest was shot. Gathering for prayer was forbidden. Any resistance was punished with many years of imprisonment or even with death. The faith was to be wiped out. Still, many remained steadfast in the faith, gathered for private communal prayer in homes, celebrated Holy Mass, even if these gatherings often resulted in arrests. Many faithful did not see a priest for decades.

The Church "Transfiguration of the Lord"

Only after glasnost and perestroika did it become possible for people in Russia to confess their faith freely again and to gather for communal prayer without fear. Numerous diocesanfacilities, initiatives, and projects were created during the course of the years in the bishopric "Transfiguration of the
Lord." Since 1994, INIGO, a center for clerical formation, has existed. World-wide it is one of the numerically largest religious centers of the Jesuits. The heaviest focus of the center rests on cultural-scientific activities, on liturgy, and on spiritual, economical and religious education.

In an effort to maintain contact between the bishop and the faithful, Bishop Werth established the "Siberian Church Newspaper " in 1995. It is published on a monthly basis, with a circulation of about 5,000 copies. Since many of the faithful don't have a lot of money, the monthly paper is offered free of charge. The paper informs the people in the widely scattered communities on important matters from the past and the present, current ecclesiastical happenings, and positions regarding various topics. Hymns and prayers are also printed.

During 1996 the Catholic Siberian Tele-studio TV KANA came into existence. Its main task is the production of video journals in which the life of the Catholic Church in Siberia and throughout the world is depicted.

A further diocesan facility is the Catholic elementary school of the Franciscans. The care of souls is carried out primarily by religious order nuns on a local basis. They worry about the homeless, the sick, the depressed and orphans. They do their work in schools, kindergartens and, of course, in parishes. The Sisters of the Eucharist view their man task in accompanying the building up of the Church with catechesis and their active assistance of all matters in the Church that are necessary but often not apparent to the outside world. The Sisters of Mother Teresa have established a center for the homeless. The Sisters of Elizabeth direct and take care of the children's home "St. Nicholas" that was built in 1995.

To keep up the local work and to promote it further required great financial means. In Russia there is no state support of the Church. The population has been impoverished by the effects of economical and political changes, making generous donations from them impossible. The organization "Church in Need" has financed a large number of projects during past years. Before the consecration of the Cathedral "Transfiguration of the Lord" this assistance project contributed 310,000 US dollars for the construction of the church and the associated diocesan center. Every year "Church in Need" supports the diocese of Bishop Joseph Werth in covering ongoing costs.

During 2005 Bishop Joseph Werth, S.J., was elected president of the Conference of Bishops in the Russian Federation. During the previous year the Jesuit was an active participant at the Second International Congress "Meeting Place of the Worldwide Church" in Augsburg.

Wolfgang J. Rotzsche of "Kirche in Not" ["Church in Need"]

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller