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What I Did in the Summer ... Placement in St Petersburg

Monday, November 12, 2012
At the beginning of July I was ordained deacon and, soon afterwards, I set out for my placement in a parish, which is quite a common place for deacons to be sent during the summer after their ordination. It’s not quite so common, though, for that parish to be in Russia, which is where I went, to our Dominican house and parish of St Catherine of Alexandria in St Petersburg. Why Russia? you might well ask. Wasn’t there somewhere in England I could have gone? Of course, I could have stayed in England, but I had studied Russian at university before I joined the Order and so asked the Student Master if I might be able to go to Russia to brush up my Russian and to get to know the brethren and their work in that country. He said yes, so off I went.

St Catherine’s is a busy church right in the centre of St Petersburg, attracting many visitors as well as a stable base of about 700 active parishioners: they comprise people from traditionally Catholic families (e.g. of Polish, Lithuanian, or German descent), as well as a substantial number of adult converts and quite a few foreigners working or studying in Russia’s ‘Northern capital’. With three Masses in the parish every day (more on Sundays, of course), and a homily at every one, there was plenty of work to go round the six members of the community, who also have various other projects and responsibilities.

One of the “new” things a deacon is able to do, as an ordained minister, is to preach at Mass, to which this placement was a very good introduction: by the end of my time in Russia, I was preaching four or five times a week: in English at the Sunday English Mass, and also for the Missionaries of Charity, whose multi-national communities use English as a common language, but then in Russian the rest of the time, which brought my Russian up to scratch pretty quickly! Preaching so often also revealed to me in a way I hadn’t really imagined, before having to do it, quite how much for a Dominican our prayer and study and preaching all relate to each other and draw on each other.

As well as preaching regularly, I took my turn being “on duty” in the church for people who wanted to talk to a friar, which gave me a small insight into the range of questions the parish clergy have to deal with, from the fairly practical business of arranging dates for Mass intentions to be said to very profound questions about people’s spiritual life.

Overall, I felt my placement gave me a good introduction to the “bread and butter” of life in a busy parish, to which, being a deacon, I was able to contribute in ways I hadn’t previously experienced. On top of that, of course, it gave me the opportunity to return to Russia and renew my acquaintance both with the language and culture and with the situation of the Catholic Church there. There is plenty of work for the Church and the Order in Russia, but, as in so many places, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few,’ (Lk 10: 2) so please do keep the Dominican Order and its work in Russia in your prayers.

Gregory Pearson OP


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