The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has announced that the 2008 Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe will take place in most parishes on February 6, Ash Wednesday.
The collection’s theme, “Love is the only light,” is taken from Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” “God is Love,” in which he writes, “Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.”
The USCCB established the collection shortly after the collapse of Communism to help the Church regain her footing in countries that had driven Catholics underground. Priests, bishops, and lay leaders were imprisoned. Churches, schools, and seminaries were left to decay or were converted to other uses.
“As a result of this severe repression, the bishops of the region today face the formidable tasks of restoring church structures and, more importantly, of rebuilding the spiritual centers of their communities. Now more than ever, the ecclesial needs of Catholics in Central and Eastern Europe must be tenderly cared for,” said Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.
Since 1991, the collection has provided more than $100 million to Catholics in post-Communist Russia as well as Central and Eastern Europe. More than 3,500 projects in more than 25 countries have been supported by the collection. The projects include a ministry to Magdan, Russia, which once held a Stalinist labor camp and educational endeavors in war-torn Kosovo.
The good that these collections accomplish is heartening. The website for the aid effort relates several stories, one of which comes from the town of Ushachi, Belarus.
Bishop Wladyslaw Blin of Vitebsk consecrated a new Catholic church built with assistance from the American collection. The old church had been shut down during the Soviet era, and collapsed from disrepair.
One woman wept outside as the concelebrants gathered in front of the church.
“What’s wrong?” asked one of the priests.
“I am thinking about my parents,” the woman said through her tears, “and the day I walked by here as a little girl. There was nothing but a pile of ruins. I asked them what it was. They said, ‘a church.’ For years and years, I thought ‘church’ meant a mass of rubble.”
“Now I’ve lived to this day to see this wonderful building and to join in the celebration. It is truly God’s miracle!” she exclaimed through tears of joy.”
The Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe will continue to fund such activities, one official with the campaign said.
“The story of the Church in Central and Eastern Europe is a story of vitality and growth, a story of steadfastness and hope. Where darkness once seemed to reign, the light of love has broken through,” said Father James M. McCann S.J., executive director of the Collection for the Church in Eastern Europe.
More information about the collection and the blessings it has brought can be found at http://www.usccb.org/aee/