Bishop Werth on a Pilgrimage to Altötting

During this year’s pilgrimage to Altötting in Bavaria that honors Mary, Catholic Germans from Russian and other CIS nations had a prominent companion in the person of, Joseph Werth, Bishop and Jesuit from Novosibisrk.

Bata, Josef. "Bishop Werth on a Pilgrimage to Altötting." Volk auf dem Weg, November 2009, 13.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Bishop Werth during the pilgrimage Mass in the St. Anna Basilica
The flag for Catholic Germans from Russia

On arriving in Altötting, Bishop Werth appeared visibly elated to be able to celebrate the pilgrimage

Mass in the St. Anna Basilica together with his countrymen and -women. In his sermon he repeatedly expressed this joy.

Thirty-five years ago, after he had left Karaganda and had moved to the Soviet Republic of Lithuania to begin his training for the priesthood and his order, he, according to Bishop Werth himself, kept  in mind foremost his German Russians. The fact that thousands of Catholics, scattered all over the entire Soviet Union at that time, were without a priest would for him be a driving force to enter bravely the path toward ecclesiastic training and education.

This year Bishop Werth celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Looking back on those twenty-five years fills him with gratitude, particularly in view of the support he has received in many various ways from the faithful.

During his sermon the Bishop remembered his novitiate during the 1970s in the community of the Jesuit order, a process that had to be conducted in the underground and kept in strictest secrecy. After he had been discovered by state security in Mitnovize and thrown into prison, he, the novice, was all on his own.   

At that time he was overwhelmed with the thought how wonderful it might be –even if only for a brief time – to slip through the Iron Curtain to Germany and to pray together with other novices and to exchange ideas with them. That which was impossible at the time has today, fortunately, become reality. He considers it an enormous grace to be able to have experienced the Catholic Church both in Russia and in Germany.

Even if life consists not purely of memories, he said, it is especially the pilgrimage site of Altötting that brings to his mind images of his childhood and of his mother. She had often quietly sung Marian hymns during her daily work, e.g., the verse “We go to the Mother of Grace, to her Most Holy image.”

Today he is still amazed of his mother and carries great respect for her. In a country and at a time when there was not a single church far and wide, not to mention any pilgrimage site, she would undertake pilgrimages in spirit. Piously she would sing her hymn in the steppes of Kazakhstan, during an era of militant atheism – as if there were no power so inimical to faith and God.

In a sense his mother would be standing before the Altötting icon of grace “of our Dear Lady” or perhaps before that at another site of pilgrimage. We must thank God that German Russian Catholics are able to gather freely in places like Altötting.

A Flag for Catholic Germans from Russian         

As part of this pilgrimage, the new flag for Catholic Germans from Russia was blessed. The initiator for this flag project was the Visitator for Catholic Germans from Russia and other CIS States, Dr. Alexander Hoffmann. The flag contains an image of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They, like the German Russians, also experienced flight and undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as the Bible tells us. The cross covering the entire flag also serves as a symbol for the fact that the way to the cross leads from all directions. And putting the image of the Holy Family in the foreground, with the cross in the background, underscores once again the emphasis given by Bishop Werth to this saying: “Salvation is in the Cross.” 

Additionally one finds on the flag four [corner] images of an anchor, the symbol for St. Clemens. This saint died a martyr’s death on Crimea, where he was tied to an anchor and drowned in the Black Sea. At the founding of the Saratov-Tiraspol Diocese in 1848, St. Clemens was designated as its patron saint. And he continues to be revered as such by Germans from Russia.

In addition to accompanying pilgrimages, the flag is intended to be present at special events such as Catholic Days and ecumenical church events. Its permanent home is in the parish of the Visitator in Bonn.

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