IT IS GOING TO BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO CONVERT OTHERS
Mateusz Wyrwich talks with Fr. Jacek Dudka – a Dominican, the general vicar of the General Vicariate in Russia and Ukraine, the superior of the Dominicans in these countries
MATEUSZ WYRWICH: – After nearly half a century of their absence, the Dominicans returned to Russia. How did it happen?
FR. JACEK DUDKA OP: – In Russia about 10 million Catholics were before the revolution. When after the revolution the parish of St. Catherine Alexandrian in Petersburg was being closed down, there were over 30 thousand believers. This great work was built by the Franciscans and Jesuits. The Dominicans were serving in this church till the year 1892. Later the parish was given to diocesan priests. But also at that time the French Dominicans worked there – till the year 1938, when the Soviets closed down this church. Fr. Konstanty Budkiewicz, serving as the parish priest from 1905, after the Bolshevik revolution organized an underground seminary. He also conducted a broad charity and pedagogical activity. He was accused of espionage by the Bolsheviks and - despite the protest of Vatican and also the international public opinion – he was killed with a gunshot into the back of his head on 31 March 1923 in a prison in Moscow on Lubianka. In this way Fr. Konstanty joined murdered 200 thousand priests during and after the revolution – priests, monks and nuns (including over 4 thousand Polish priests). When the church was closed down, a branch of an atheism museum was established in it and a concert hall was planned to be open. In 1984 the church was set on fire. Ruined, after many prayers of rosary and requests, it was given to parishioners in 1992. In the beginning Fr. Eugeniusz Geynrikhs and Fr. Ludwik Wisniewski worked there . Later other Dominicans arrived. I appeared there in 2010, on the day after beatification of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko. I received a strong advocate.
– What does it mean to be a Catholic in Russia?
– It is not easy to be a Catholic in Russia. There are the Orthodox everywhere – so a Catholic is in the minority. It must be acknowledged and one must look for a kind of cooperation. The best form of a testimony is being a real Christian, without any prejudices to other people. One must pray for everyone. We had also thought till the Second Vatican Council that it were them who had to convert. Whereas we have to convert to God together.
– What is it like to be a priest in Russia?
– On a picture from the first Holy Mass I have words written from the Letter to the Romans: ‘Do not owe anything to anybody apart from mutual love’. So, we must learn to love people as they are and bring them closer to God. In the recent years understanding of ecumenism has slightly changed. We have the common awareness, but so little divides us and so much unites us: sacraments, cults of the saints and angels. There are some things which must be agreed in groups of theologians. But today it is less important how somebody makes the sign of the cross.
– What is the catholic Polish Diaspora like in Petersburg?
– It is various. There are those who live there through generations, descendants of the exile, uprisings, or there are those who arrived in Russia with the beginning of XX century looking for better way of earning and history kept them there. They decided to settle there and later they could not return. However, many of them are discovering their roots just now. Before that they were afraid to admit their Polish attitude as they might have been persecuted. I met a Polish woman, Mrs. Jadzia Szymanska who was the right hand of Fr. Ludiwk: she helped, explained complexities of the Russian soul. She was an extremely beautiful person. She never belonged to Komsomol of Pioneers or the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Despite that fact, she graduated from university and considers herself to be the oldest parishioner of our church because …she never rejected the church.
– In 2012 co-brothers elected Father as the prior of the monastery in Kiev…
– It happened so that during four years I was in three countries and in five monasteries. It was difficult to catch up with everything. My predecessor, Fr. Maciej Rusiecki said: ‘You know, then you will have a little rest now’… And in autumn last year, after seventeen months of the ‘rest’, I was elected a vicar of Russia and Ukraine. I have a house in Kiev and I spend most time on journeys, travelling hundreds of kilometers in order to meet with my co-brothers.
– What is the Ukrainian society like?
– There is a big variety in Ukraine. In smaller parts there are many Catholics. Whereas in bigger cities the Orthodox are a definite majority. Ukraine is, undoubtedly, a post-soviet country, with enormous soviet impacts. But there are significantly more Catholics there than in Russia. It is said that about 700 thousand of them, but I would not be so sure, I think that 500-700 thousand. In Kiev we run the Institute of St. Thomas from Aquinas. Seventy students study there at stationary studies. Further ninety of them attend a family and catechist studies. We prepare specialists for family life and catechists. At these two last faculties there are a lot of nuns – the Catholic and the Greek-Catholic ones. We do not have a parish church in Kiev, but only a chapel of the Institute where people related to us come to pray. Whereas in a parish church we celebrate the Holy Mass in Russian. In the church of St. Stanislaw – in Spanish. We also serve to the Carmelite nuns and nuns of Mother Theresa of Calcutta. We cooperate with the Greek-Catholic Church whose believers are about 4.5 million in Ukraine. They have very well-educated theologians who support our Institute. There is also a good cooperation with the Orthodox not only of the Kiev Patriarchate but also the Patriarchate of Moscow. Our Institute is recognizable as a neutral place. Practically, it is the only one where all confessions can meet together. Every year a meeting of theologians is organized: ‘Uspienskie cztienia’. In Ukraine we also serve in other places: in Lvov, in Czortkow, Yalta and Fastow.
– So, the cooperation with the Ukrainian Church is significantly broader and better…
– One of Orthodox priests of the Patriarchate of Moscow said once that what unites us is the Eucharist and the saints. Because nobody will deny holiness of John Paul II, for example. What is also interesting, in Kiev there are relics of St. Stanislaw the Bishop and Martyr. Fr. Piotr, the parish priest of the Orthodox parish church of St. Peter and Paul of the Patriarchate of Kiev, asked us for help in gaining them. In his parish many men named Stanislaw had lived, among whom there was a deputy who funded the icon of St. Satanislaw as a votive gift for miraculous healing and who really wanted to gain the relics of the saint. We helped Fr. Piotr to write a letter to cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. The cardinal agreed to give a small part of the relics of St. Stanislaw at Wawel and they were brought to the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Kiev. The developing cult of St. Stanislaw the Bishop and Martyr unites our Churches. I remember when I made a pilgrimage to Budslaw in Belarus in 2005, and I saw an orthodox and catholic churches situated opposite each other in a small town. I asked an elderly woman what relations between the Catholics and the Orthodox were like here. She answered wisely: they are the same as the relations of the Orthodox among themselves and the Catholics among themselves.
– At one moment in Your Dominican ministry there appeared a necessity of being in a new social situation of Ukraine.
– Our role is not dealing with a widely understood politics, but serving to people in every situation because God redeems the man in his history. Sometimes this history is extremely complicated and painful. I will admit that it was a great experience for us to be in the centre of the recent events in Ukraine. Only sometimes what can be done is to express one’s love to another man and show spiritual support. Majdan was buzzing. I often went there to say rosary prayer.
– In the place where on 20 February gunshots were fired, people were killed…..
– Yes, near me a man fell down, being fatally wounded by a sniper. Only a few seconds earlier I had been in his place. At one moment I went a few steps away because my co-brother called me. A man was killed. He was 39. He was an outsider, good man who brought warm clothes, transported the wounded to hospital. He was shot in the eyes of his wife. I am aware that I should pray for him and everybody killed. At that time I went to church and I celebrated the Holy Mass for him. Every day for a few days I used to go to the same place to say the rosary prayer.
– The whole Christian world saw how the rosary reached to Majdan. The rosary prayer impressed many people…
– It was unusual what was done by the Greek-Catholic priest Petro Kobal. He brought to Majdan 700 thousand rosaries which were later given away by volunteers. I also joined the action. The rosary prayer has an unusual power. It is proven by the victory over the Turkish at Lepanto in 1571, assigned to the rosary prayer. Many regimes subdued to the Rosary. Like in 1955, when thanks to the rosary prayer many thousand people, the Soviets stopped the occupation in Austria, and from the rational point of view nothing like that was going to happen. It was similar with the rosary miracle on the Philippines in 1986. – The collapse of the despotic government of president Marcos. In fact in Kiev people started to pray, convert only after the first people were killed. Certainly, earlier there was also a prayer. Every hour Greek-Catholic or Orthodox priests appeared there. One could see great presence and help of Our Lady. On Majdan a Pallottine priest was asked to arrive with a figure of Our Lady from Fatima. It was sanctified and placed in a tent of a field chapel. During an invasion, a few minutes before the tent was burned, it had been taken away from there and placed on a stage. In the church of St. Alexander where we celebrate the Holy Mass, there was a military hospital. We accommodated people here. They were from Donieck, Lugansk, Odessa and Kremlin. They converted. In churches there were vigil prayers in which I also participated. Spiritual support was enormous. The church became hospital and a therapeutic surgery, a canteen and a dormitory. People were sleeping among benches. They were experiencing it in a strong way. They thought that they were unworthy to sleep in the church. Especially non-believers thought so.
– What does such a historical experience give to a priest?
– First of all, it gives a belief about fragility of life and a necessity of continuous care about eternal life. What happened and happens in Ukraine moved something in people, who have lived in awareness so far that nothing depends on them. Communism destroyed people very much and made them insensitive to evil. Now the desire of Christian values and life in the truth return to many of them. There appears the sense of responsibility for the common welfare and the mutual solidarity. Many Ukrainians realized the fact that changes must be begun from oneself. So, in fact it was possibly easily to become a hero on Majdan. One could only be on the line of a shot of a sniper. Whereas it is an extremely complicated and long process to undertake the everyday effort of conversion and free oneself from the feeling of hatred and willingness of revenge. But with God’s grace it is possible. I personally think about the life motto of blessed Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko from the Letter to Romans: ‘Do not let the evil overcome you, but win evil with the good!’.