.- The Catholic Church in Kaliningrad is enjoying “more and more” growth as the area continues to recover from decades of communist rule, Monsignor Jerzy Steckiewicz has told the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). However, the severely weakened state of the region’s families is a particular concern for the Church.
During the communist era all parishes were banned in Kaliningrad, the Russian territorial enclave situated between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea. The first Orthodox parish was established there in 1985, while one Catholic as well as one Protestant parish were established in 1991. At present there are 23 parishes within the Kaliningrad territory, where Catholics make up 5 percent of the population.
When Monsignor Jerzy was asked to give the exact number of Catholics in the region, he replied: “I can give you a precise answer to that -- there are more and more of them!”
Monsignor Jerzy, the vicar general of Kaliningrad, told ACN that the number of baptisms and marriages is increasing in the region. He said faith is reawakened in many individuals who attend the baptisms, marriages, or funerals of friends and relatives. The monsignor said he tries to conduct every such liturgy in a beautiful and dignified manner to convey the “beauty of the Faith.”
Young people who receive baptism also act as apostles among friends and family, while religious instruction for children helps bring their parents back to church.
The monsignor said that the Church is responding to the extremely high divorce rate by emphasizing sound preparation for marriage. The Church maintains a Family Help Center in Kaliningrad to provide expert instruction and courses on childrearing, family planning, the marriage apostolate, and other relevant subjects.
The Catholic Church had also started several programs in response to the 2008 “Year of the Family” initiative launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We need happy families who can bear witness," Monsignor Jerzy explained.
According to Monsignor Jerzy, Kaliningrad Catholics’ relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are very positive, though he said the Orthodox still have too few churches.
The monsignor said both Churches enjoy a unifying element in their shared Christian motivation to fulfill their social and charitable responsibilities.
Both Churches are committed to encouraging respect for life. While under communism abortion was almost a normal means of family planning, today there is growing awareness that it is something “bad and harmful,” he said.
Amid the positive signs, the lack of local vocations stands out as a negative. Monsignor Jerzy told ACN that most of the priests are still from abroad. At present there are only three native priests, three native seminarians, and three religious sisters. The Church is counting on the family to promote new vocations.