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Attending Mass in Church is Rare for Siberian Bishop: Head of Rebuilding Church Visits North Dakota

Rzeczkowski, Frank. "Attending Mass in Church is Rare for Siberian Bishop: Head of Rebuilding Church Visits North Dakota." Minot Daily News, June 1993.


    We've had freedom for three years, but we don't have any churches or seminaries, and we don't have any priests. "The people were deprived of all of their cultural background, but most of all they were deprived of their spiritual traditions."

    --- Bishop Joseph Werth, Diocese of Siberia

Renewing old ties - Bishop Joseph Werth, of Novosibirsk, Russia, visits with Emma Reiger of Minot Thursday. A former bishop of Russia died in Reiger's home when she lived in Russia years ago.
Karlsruhe, North Dakota - Visiting North Dakota has afforded Bishop Joseph Werth a rare privilege - the opportunity to celebrate mass in a real church.

For the soft-spoken Catholic bishop from Novosibirsk, Russia, it's an opportunity he values, because until three years ago it would not have been possible.

"We've had freedom for three years, but we don't have any churches or seminaries, and we don't have any priests," Werth said through his interpreter, Father Joseph Senger.

Werth's family was one of thousands of German families to emigrate to Russia during the 18th Century. But after the communist revolution, Werth's family and others were exiled to Siberia, their faith driven underground.

"The people were deprived of all of their cultural background, but most of all they were deprived of their spiritual traditions," Werth said.

Masses were conducted in secret, and Werth had to travel all the way across Russia to Lithuania to enter a seminary for his religious training.

When a diocese was re-established three years ago, Werth was appointed bishop at the age 37 and given the daunting task of rebuilding Catholicism in Siberia.

Two years ago his diocese had just two priests. Today it has 35, but that's still not much to serve a congregation stretching over nine time zones in an area larger than the entire United States.

That's part of the reason behind Werth's trip. Three of the priests in Werth's diocese are Americans, and he's looking for others willing to help. He also hopes to establish ties between U.S. residents and their relatives in Russia.

"When Germans lost their privileges at the end of the 1800s, many Germans came to the United States," Werth said. "Virtually every German family in North Dakota has relatives in Siberia."

Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News.

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