.- Catholics in the United States are being encouraged to continue supporting the Church in the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe through the national Eastern Church collection this Lent.
The U.S. bishops have suggested the national collection date to be Ash Wednesday, Feb. 21. The annual collection has been held in the U.S. since 1990. The funds reach the Church in Central and Eastern Europe through the international organization Aid to the Church in Need.
The program provides support for the formation and training of priests and religious; the development of catechetical programs, materials, and teachers; the establishment of mass media and communications apostolates; and the support of the Church's charitable works.
During the years of communist oppression, the Church in Central and Eastern Europe suffered grave wounds to its spiritual life and pastoral capacity to serve its people. For generations, Church leaders were killed or imprisoned. Catechists were persecuted, and churches, monasteries, and seminaries were closed or destroyed.
Today, after the fall of communism, the bishops of the region are faced with the formidable task of restoring Church structures and rebuilding the spiritual center of its communities.
The countries included in the work are 28: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
The theme for the 2007 Collection to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe is “Love is the only light,” based on Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical.
Collection materials highlight Magadan, Russia, a remote place where the light of Christ’s love has broken through in the lives of the people of the Nativity of Jesus Parish.
In a part of the world where prisoners of the Stalinist labor camps once fashioned rosaries from bits of their bread ration, a vibrant parish now worships in a new church building. Fully-trained catechists run marriage retreats to deepen family bonds and to heal the pain of broken families. Every Friday, a parish soup kitchen feeds the poor.