The Orthodox Metropolitan of Kemerovo, Russia, thanks ACN for supporting his seminarians
Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of ACN, always led from the front with the famous phrase: "Somebody has to make a start – we do!" In 1991, when Pope John Paul II asked him, after a long life as a bridge builder, to look for ways of dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, he embraced the idea with enthusiasm. After all, the Orthodox Church in Russia was forced at the time to begin from almost nothing, following decades of persecution.
The numbers speak for themselves: just 20 years after the October Revolution in Russia, of the 60,000 or so churches in which the Sacred Liturgy had previously been celebrated, only 100 were left standing. In the first two years of the revolution alone, some 15,000 Orthodox priests were murdered and over 300 bishops were executed or died in prison.
The possibility, following the collapse of the communist regime, of helping our Orthodox sister Church not only with kind words but also with practical deeds of love was one that Father Werenfried, now aged almost 80, described as the "last and greatest joy of my life." The challenge of building bridges and promoting reconciliation had always been the great mission of his life, and right from the start, taking the first step had been the defining characteristic of his charity ACN.
Over the course of the past 20 years or so this "ecumenism of solidarity" has fostered many friendships between Catholics and Orthodox in Russia. The Orthodox Eparchy (diocese) of Kemerovo and Kusbas is a particularly beautiful example of this.
In April 2015 the leadership of ACN was welcomed by Metropolitan Aristarch, who expressed his heartfelt thanks to ACN for the help the charity had provided for over 15 years. He welcomed every single one of his Catholic guests with the words "Christ is risen!" And he expressed his particular thanks for the support given by ACN for the formation of his young priests.
For his part, the president of ACN, Johannes Freiherr Heereman spoke of his joy at the cordial ecumenical climate in Kemerovo and expressed the intention of ACN to continue and expand its fraternal dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church. "We wish to go on helping the Russian Orthodox Church in this region and so contribute to the advancement of Christianity on this earth," he said.
This year the benefactors of ACN helped with a contribution of $41,400 for the formation of the 126 seminarians in the Diocese of Kemerovo – or about $329 per seminarian per year: a small contribution, yet a gesture of friendship and fraternal solidarity that has achieved great things.
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