WASHINGTON (February 9, 1999) -- American Catholics will once again respond to the challenge of rebuilding the Church after decades of communist oppression when the collection to aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe is taken up in churches throughout the country this month.
The Collection to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe will take place in most dioceses of the country on February 17, Ash Wednesday.
Since 1990, the collection has provided nearly $43 million to more than 1,500 projects in 21 countries. All projects are aimed at helping the Church dig out from under the rubble of communist ruin and respond to the religious aspirations of the people. The work is under the direction of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, headed by Msgr. R. George Sarauskas.
The past decade has witnessed many small victories for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. A convent was given back to nuns in the Ukraine. A church was dedicated in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). But the victories often go hand in hand with overwhelming needs: the communists had used the convent for interrogation and it badly needs renovation; the church was the 24th in the European part of Russia to be dedicated--when there used to be 150 churches in this region.
"Much more time will be required to completely reestablish infrastructure and to develop leaders to guide the Church into the next millennium," Msgr. Sarauskas commented. "The collection to aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe enables Catholics in the United States to participate in this rebirth."
Although the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe goes back for centuries, generations grew up without it when public acts of religion were prohibited under communism. Church buildings such as the convent were converted to government uses. Religious books were destroyed. Priests were prevented from saying Mass and offering the sacraments. The Church in most of these countries is now free but lacks resources to keep up with the needs.
"The task before the Church can seem overwhelming, but Catholics in the United States can help by providing the necessary resources to lay the foundation," Msgr. Sarauskas said.
"Right now, a lot of applications are for scholarships for priests, religious, and lay leaders, so that they can go home and share the faith in their communities," he continued. "We've seen an increase of applications focusing on youth--building youth centers, organizing youth rallies, and developing faith formation programs for youth. Young people are the hope of the Church."
Msgr. Sarauskas also commented on the growing need for construction funds. "Although we used to try to focus our funding on projects other than construction, we have begun to fund more church-building projects because of the importance of having places for congregations to worship together, and the fact that local communities do not have the financial resources to manage the construction themselves." Msgr. Sarauskas noted that some building projects receive funding from other countries--such as the German and Italian bishops' conferences--in addition to funding from the United States.
The Collection to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe began in 1990. The bishops voted to continue the collection indefinitely in November, 1997. Outreach to Catholics in other countries corresponds to the bishops' statement Called to Global Solidarity, which stressed the need "to take on the global status quo and to resist the immorality of isolationism," as well as to "assist countries emerging from authoritarian rule."
Money from the collection is administered as grants to bishops, diocesan offices, and religious orders in the countries of Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia.
A promotion packet for the 1999 Collection to Aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe was sent to diocesan directors thoughout the country. Materials included a sample bishop's letter, which could be read from the pulpit or printed in the diocesan newspaper, and clip art for use with bulletins, newsletters, press features and other materials.
A colorful poster shows an elderly priest sitting outside in what was once a sturdy confessional. A kneeling boy is going to confession. The accompanying words say: "The boy is probably too young to remember. The priest cannot forget. It was not too long ago that the Church here emerged from decades of communist oppression. Now, a people of renewed hope comes together to acknowledge God's love and mercy. Openly.