This post was submitted by Jocelyn Kilpatrick, a friend of Salt + Light who is currently living Vladivostok, Russia where she teaches English. Jocelyn is originally from the Toronto area.
Fr. Dan makes his way through Vladivostok's main square, attracting curious stares from the locals. He has not often worn his clerical garb in public the last 23 years he has lived in this Far Eastern Russian city, which was closed to foreigners for fifty years.
He points out to his American volunteers that the former Communist headquarters stand above a statue commemorating “Soviet Power in the Russian Far East.” The only vestiges of the Soviet system that I have encountered, however, reside in the bureaucratic run-around nightmare that is always accompanied by excessive amounts of paperwork.
There is no strong anti-religious sentiment, or a particularly anti-Catholic attitude. The principal reaction I have received to my religion is curiosity. In a place acclimatized to strict bureaucratic rules and dogmatic Orthodoxy, Catholicism appears contrastingly liberal and tolerant. What a refreshing change from Canada where Catholicism stands as the stick in the mud for cultural relativism and extreme ideological liberty. While I have interpreted this curiosity as openness, others are more skeptical about whether religion can find a foothold in a country that has been spiritually depleted.
The Catholic Church, which has just under 300 members in this Asian city, claims only 3 fully-practicing Catholic nuclear families. On average, most marriages here end in divorce and produce few children. Though, according to my students, this latter problem is a financial one.
James H. Billington writes in Russia Transformed: Breakthrough to Hope, that Russians broke from the vortex of political violence and fear because they hoped for the Western ideal of an open, democratic society. While this hope may have helped remove the shackles of communism, it did not rekindle in Russians a new hope for their country. My students, for example, are learning English in order to start over in America. Revolutions are old-fashioned; the new method is divorce—not only as the answer to family problems but to problems in the country as well.
As a Canadian, I know the vision of America my students have is a hallucinatory dream, but believing in it may prove helpful in pulling Russia forward, as hope in a better society propels these citizens to seek some greater good. For in reality, there is a greater good to be found within the confines of their very city.
Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Kilpatrick