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Newsletter, January-February 2017

Round Table on Social Service of Religious Communities - Inter-confessional Exchange

A round-table conference on Social Service of Religious communities - Inter-Confessional Exchange took place on January 26, 2017, at the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations (DECR).

It was organized as part of the XXV International Educational Christmas Readings and attended by some 40 clergy and laity from various dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church, representatives of Catholic and Protestant religious communities and ecclesial and public organizations in Russia and Italy.

The Round Table was chaired by Archpriest Maxim Pletnev, leader of the Coordinating center for overcoming drug and alcohol abuse, St. Petersburg diocesan Department for church charity and social service.

Margarita B. Nelyubova, DECR staff member, informed the meeting about the participation of religious communities in the 5th Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference (EECAAC) that took place from March 23 to 25, 2016, in Moscow. It was attended by 2,500 delegates from 79 countries. About 70 representatives of Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious communities in Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia shared their experience in this field. The Interconfessional Coordinating Committee on HIV/AIDS, established in 2004, participated in the preparation of the conference. Bishop Mefody of Kamensk and Alapaevsk, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, was among the speakers who greeted the conference. Three seminars were held as parts of the conference organized by religious communities of different traditions on the following themes: "Experience of religious organizations in HIV/AIDS prevention", "Spiritual formation and professional programs in rehabilitation centers of religious communities", "Mapping the activities of religious organizations in the field of HIV response and drug addicts' rehabilitation". The Conference was widely covered by many confessional media. Protectant religious media organizations made a film about the participation of the interreligious delegation in the conference. The Outcome Statement of the Conference stressed the important role played by religious organizations in the progress achieved in opposing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The document calls upon religious organizations:

  • to strengthen co-operation between religious communities of different faiths of on the prevention of HIV/AIDS;
  • to promote awareness and education among religious leaders and members of religious communities about HIV prevention, and reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV;
  • to widen the network of religious organizations providing spiritual support, palliative care and other forms of support to people living with HIV and their families".

The first preparatory meeting for planning the next EECAAC conference will be held in February 2017.

As a follow-up of the round table, Ms. Paola Bondzi, a psychotherapist and the founder and leader of the Life Preservation Center at the Mangiagalli Clinic, Milan, Italy, shared her experience of anti-abortion counseling. In this center founded 32 years ago, there are 40 workers including family counsellors, psychologists, social workers as well as volunteers. Thanks to their efforts, about 20 thousand babies have come to the world in these years. The most important thing done by Paola and her colleagues is that they hear out women who are going to get an abortion, help them to understand themselves and their fears, become aware of their inner resources and come to love their yet unborn babies. The center's staff provide women with necessary help depending on their particular situation: some are given a temporary accommodation, baby's clothes, financial means, while others need medical support, etc. An individual plan for support before and after the delivery is compiled for each woman.

'One needs to have one's say, to prove one's case to another. But we do it in a different way: we seek to hear not only by ear at that but also by heart. Our psychological education allows us to understand what is hidden behind words. Each woman with her story is let into our hearts. To some extent, we become mothers for these women and they receive in our person a certain model of motherhood, which was denied them by their own mothers… We wish that their children could come into the world. And we exert every effort and invest our whole souls to make a woman want to become a mother', Paola said. Fifty years ago Paolo lost eyesight but it does not hinder her work: she herself conducts counselling sessions for three or four women a day, writes books and reads lectures.

Ms. Yelena Poslanchik, coordinator of the Caritas projects of the Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, spoke about the work for preserving life carried out in the two branches of Caritas in Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg. The Kaliningrad center began its work on this problem in 1994. For this time, it has managed to dissuade over one hundred women from abortion and to prepare 236 couples for wedding. The resource center in St. Petersburg was established in 2015. Since that time all the 200 women who came to it for help in a difficult situation refused to get abortion. The Kaliningrad-based center 'Caritas-West' has carried out programs aimed to provide socio-psychological assistance to young pregnant women, to do preventive and educational work with school children and to prepare people for the Sacrament of Marriage. She pointed out to the following recently developed tendency in the northern capital: while the number of abortions is gradually decreasing, the number of those who give up their newly born babies for adoption is growing. Considering this tendency, programs should be developed for preparing expectant mothers and supporting them after the childbirth.

Ms. Inna Motornaya, regional representative of the Kesher Project, dealt with the prevention of abortions and work with women in trouble carried out by her organization. 'It is important that a woman should be given support and should feel that she is needed and loved', she said. It is necessary to develop and support counselling services for women'.

Ms. Nina Belyakova, psychological counsellor of the center 'Vstan' (Rise), shared her experience of giving help to elderly and demented patients. Due to various circumstances and diseases, these people have found themselves in houses for the elderly and boarding homes. Many of them take it hard. The task of a counsellor is, together with the staff, to arrange it so that these people may not just spend their last days but enjoy life and move to eternity with dignity. She testifies that 'love makes wonders', as elderly people separated from their families and filled with grievances over their children and life 'get awaken', opening for themselves new creative opportunities and the spiritual dimension of life and learning to pray. Non-believers before, these people begin to pray for their loved ones and share their joy: 'I prayed for my grandson and he passed his exam'. Fairy tale therapy, modelling, concerts, talks and songs - with all this a psychologist helps elderly people to become engaged in these activities and 'to find the spiritual meaning'.

The Rev. Artis Petersons, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, prepared a report on the Carl-Blum House for the Elderly in the Ozersky district near Kaliningrad. This house, which was opened in 2006, accommodates 20 people, and for all the time of its existence over one hundred people lived in it.

DECR Communication Service

Inter-confessional seminar on anti-abortion counseling

An inter-confessional seminar on anti-abortion counseling took place on January 27-28 at the Department for External Church Relations (DECR) of the Moscow Patriarchate. It was a follow-up of the Round Table in Social Service of Religious Communities - Inter-Confessional Exchange of Experience, which took place earlier at the DECR as part of the 25th Christmas Educational Readings. The work of both the seminar and the round table was supervised by Ms. Margarita Nelyubova, a DECR staff member. Ms. Giovanna Parraviccini, the Vatican cultural attach? in Russia, acted as co-organizer and interpreter of the meeting.

The participants were greeted by Peter Humenyuk, head of the Russian desk of the Foundation Kirche in Not (Aid to the Church in Need). He thanked the DECR leaders who organized the meeting devoted to the salvation of unborn children. 'We regard this event as a continuation of the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill last February', he said in particular. During that historic meeting, he continued, a document was signed that contains a joint analysis of a number of world outlook issues with epochal implications. The first of them is the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. The second issue concerns 'life from beginning to death' and, more broadly, the Christian family. The theme of the seminar, as Peter Humenyuk is convinced, is the ground for a living encounter between Catholic and Orthodox Christians. 'As for our foundation, we intend, together with the Orthodox and Catholic sides, to continue initiatives of this kind, especially since there are no essential theological differences on this theme' Peter Humenyuk summarized, adding, 'the very target of this seminar to save lives speaks for itself. Therefore, I am very glad and grateful for being here with you'.

The main guests of the seminar - Ms Paola Bondzi from Milan and her colleagues explained how their Center works to help preserve lives - their task is to 'help a woman to not choose abortion'. The Center has been functioning at the largest maternity hospital in Milan for 32 years now, and a large number of abortions are performed in it. Thanks to the Center's work, up to now 19 960 babies have been saved and born. The Center staff gives the assistance necessary in each particular situation to women who decide to refuse to get abortion, providing them with medical service, clothes, foodstuffs, childcare means and help with lodging. If a woman does not have relatives who can help her to take care of the child, the Center offers such help.

'I believe, Christians of any confession should get united in some way to increase the number of children who can be born', Ms Bondzi stressed, 'Christ is life'. She said that an unborn child is 'small and quiet while we are big and strong and we presume we can do with it whatever we wish. I wish that we may become the voice of a baby who cannot make itself be heard'.

The Italians are confident that their methods work, as 85% of the women, after their talk with a psychologist, do not agree to make abortion, and they are really given designated material aid and moral support. Annually, the Center allocates 1,6 million Euro for the needs of such women. The Italian guests conducted a master class showing how to talk to women. They also explained the financial aspect of fund-raising.

The seminar was attended by Christians of various confessions, staff members of crisis centers, psychologists and social workers from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Chelyabinsk, Kirov and other cities in Russia.

Deacon Constantine Strekalovsky of the St. Petersburg diocesan department for church charity and social service made a detailed report about the work carried out by his department for pre-abortion counselling. Father Constantine and his colleagues are convinced that it is insufficient to concentrate only on the psychological and material aid. 'In talking with women, it is necessary to raise spiritual issues since the spirit and soul are what matters most of all in a human being. It does not mean that we should straightforwardly say: You will get into hell for the sin of infanticide. But it needs to be explained with delicacy and love why it cannot be done, proceeding from the patristic traditions. As practice has shown, it produces positive results'.

Along with talks to expectant mothers, the activity of the department includes educational work with healthcare institutions staff through lectures and pilgrimages to introduce medical doctors to the basics of Christian faith and morals.

Catholic priest Gregory Zwolinski, director of the Bethlehem in Vyatka center, reported that in the process of the seminar's work he received answers to some of his questions and the most important of them that he intends to convey to his colleagues is 'Come to each person with love in your heart'. The basic difficulties encountered by the center in its work, he said, are the shortage of material means, bureaucratic obstacles and the opinion entrenched in the Russian public awareness that 'abortion is a normal thing'.

The seminar participants agreed to maintain further contacts for ensuring a more effective cooperation.

From reports by Ye. Bazhina on blagobest-info.ru and mitropolia.spb.ru

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