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
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
“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
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.