Siberians Look to N.D. for Guidance "Bishop Works to Rebuild the 'Moral Fiber' of Former Soviet Citizens"

Wood, Carter. "Siberians Look to N.D. for Guidance "Bishop Works to Rebuild the 'Moral Fiber' of Former Soviet Citizens"." Grand Forks Herald, 17 June 1995, sec. 3B.

To bring social services to its believers in Siberia, the Catholic Church must first start by retraining the very moral fiber of the people, says the Bishop of the Diocese of Novosibirsk, Joseph Werth.

Werth was in Fargo Friday to visit Catholic Family Services, studying how the private agency helps people with difficulties.

His stop represents another step in developing the ties between North Dakota and Siberian Catholics, many whom are of ethnic German-from-Russian descent. Werth first came to North Dakota two years ago, looking for moral and financial support from the descendents of German-from-Russian settlers here.

The situation remains difficult for the Catholic Church in Siberia, said Werth, whose diocese of perhaps 100,000 people is as large geographically as the United States. Although the government is generally letting churches operate freely, money is tight.

“We have no money,” Werth said in a telephone interview. “Inflation is so high that our people don’t want to do anything with their money.”

Meager finances makes providing social services difficult, but another important obstacle is the spirit of the people. Seventy years of Communist dictatorship produced the “Soviet Man,” non-believing and passive.

“We first have to rear and re-educate these people morally, giving them a Christian upbringing,” he said. To reach the level of the professional services available in the United States will take 20 or 25 years.

But a more parish-oriented approach, relying on laypeople, might be a good place to start, said Tim Mathern, Director of Catholic Family Services.

“Our approach was to build on nature,” Mathern said of his discussions with Werth. “If someone is married, and does a halfway decent job of marriage, then maybe they do other things. We don’t need theologians on some of these things to be actually helpful.”

Otherwise the Siberian church is holding its own. Many new congregations are being founded, but other German-Russian villages are emptying out, as the people immigrate to Germany.

Werth was in the United States to attend an international Catholic conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., along with three bishops and a cardinal from Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Werth agreed to meet with North Dakotans next June in Odessa, Ukraine. Michael Miller, the Germans-from-Russia bibliographer at North Dakota State University, has scheduled a tour to visit the Black Sea region, the ethnic homeland of many North Dakotans and South Dakotans.

Werth’s mother came from the Black Sea village of Speyer, and he has never seen his ancestral village, Miller said. His parents were forcibly relocated to Kazakhstan during Josef Stalin’s Communist regime.

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

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