Katya shared the fate of hundreds of thousands in Stalin’s Russia. Around 1943, when she was eight years old, she was exiled to Kazakhstan along with many others of German descent. Most of her family and friends did not survive. She met another exile, married, and gave birth to four children in quick succession. Her husband died early and she reared her children alone in the harsh religious and economic conditions of the time. Eventually, in the Brezhnev era, her family made their way back to Russia and found work on a Collective Farm.
A phone call was my first contact. Katya’s son heard there was a Catholic priest in Saratov, 50 kilometers away. He phoned, explaining his mother was very ill, probably dying. Could I come?
I drove out over icy roads. Family members were ready to welcome me. I chatted with Katya, heard her first and last confession, gave her communion, anointed her. We talked for a time about the past. Before leaving I asked her if she had any worries or fears.
“I am not afraid,” she said. “I am so happy a priest could come before I die. All my life God has been with me, every day. He was always near. You don’t speak German and I don’t speak Russian very well. But we’ve enough to understand each other. Thanks for coming. What’s your name again? I will pray for you.”
I knew she would. I drove home over an ice-sheet for 30 kilometres. The snow sparkled like diamonds. Something sparkled in my heart too. “Who was really ministering here?”
Katya died the next Wednesday.
The following Sunday, a beautiful young girl, a university student, came to me after mass. “I want to come to church here,” she said. “I’m Katya. You came to my grandmother last week.” I knew then that the Lord heard Grandma Katya’s prayers, and that she was still praying, and not only for me.
Michael Screene, MSC