Special Eucharistic Celebration was Held Sunday in Strasburg

"Special Eucharistic Celebration was Held Sunday in Strasburg." Emmons County Record, 1993.

Bishop Joseph Werth of Novosibirsk, Russia, and Vicar General Johannes Boersch of Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, took part in a special Eucharistic celebration at Strasburg’s Sts. Peter and Paul Parish on Sunday. Also taking part in the event was parish priest, Fr. Leonard Eckroth and Fr. Al Bitz of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo.

A large crowd gathered in Strasburg for the mass, which was said in both English and German. The church choir also performed some hymns in German and Latin.

Bishop Werth led the service with an opening prayer in German. In his sermon, which Fr. Bitz translated, the bishop expressed his surprise when he learned of many Germans from Russia in this area. He also spoke of the German-Russian history, and the ancestors who chose life in America rather than Russia. "As difficult as it was for your ancestors to begin a new life in America," he said. "It was much more difficult to live in Russia."

Following the service, refreshments were served in the church basement. Local Germans from Russia, as well as parishioners, helped coordinate the event. Bishop Werth and Fr. Johannes also visited German Russian cemeteries and met with local Germans from Russia. All guests were invited to visit with the bishop or ask him questions about his life in Russia.

Bishop Werth and Fr. Johannes arrived in Fargo on July 30. They have visited various North Dakota communities and the bishop described the culture, life, and future of the ethnic Germans who live in Russia and Kazakhstan. Many of these families have relatives in the Dakotas and throughout the Northern Planes. Up to five million Germans live in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

On July 31, Bishop Werth and Vicar General Boersch visited the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the NDSU Libraries and discussed the potential for cooperative programs. Universities in the cities of Altai, Novosibirsk, Omsk, and Saratov in the Siberian region of Russia, as well as Alma-Ata and Karaganda in Kazakhstan have academic programs similar to those at NDSU.

Bishop Werth was born in 1952 and grew up in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. When he was only seven, his father was exiled to Siberia along with thousands of German decedents from the Volga region of Russia. His mother (family name Hoerner or Horner) was from a German village near Odessa in the Black Sea area of the Ukraine, as were many who homesteaded in North Dakota.

Bishop Werth was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1984. Werth spoke of interrogations by the KGB, including being told if he did not sign and agreement to work with them, he would never become a priest. "I’m a believer and I believe that God is stronger than the KGB," he recalled answering. The KGB official offered more, saying if he signed with the KGB, not only would he become a priest, but possibly a bishop.

In 1991 he was named a bishop by John Paul II. As one of the youngest Catholic bishops, Werth’s diocese is the largest in the world geographically-it stretches 5,000 miles from the Ural Mountains east to the Bering Sea, spanning nine of the world’s 24 time zones. He was one of the first two Catholic bishops in Russia in over 60 years.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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