In our parish "Exaltation of the Holy cross" in Tambov, we can say that there are two groups of parishioners: Russian and foreign students, majority of whom are from Africa. Among the pastoral activities of the parish as recommended by the Diocese we try to create a special apostolate with these students so that they may feel integrated into the parish community.
We are five (5) members in the community. Br.Waldemar Kalinowski SVD, (Superior, from Poland) Fr. Robert Balek SVD (Parish Priest, from Slovakia), Fr Germain Mukinisia SVD (Congo), Fr. Lukas Chrunik SVD (Poland) and Frt. Bidahou Mana Atozou SVD (OTP, from Togo). The SSpS sisters have a community in our Parish and are helping us in this venture. The international students in Tambov are big in number (Would be more than fifty (50) when gathered for a service). But the number of those who actively come for the Holy Mass every Sunday could be between twenty (20) and thirty (30) people. Like any Christian, our international students participate in Sunday mass every week together with the Russian congregation.
Given that not all of them speak or understand Russian well, we hold a Bible meeting on Sundays, based on the gospel of that day, to ensure that everyone understands and shares their thoughts. We read the Gospel in different languages, such as, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. We try to explain message of the readings and its application for our life. The purpose of this Bible meeting is to help them understand the Word of God better in their own native languages. In addition to this, once a month, we have Holy Mass for the foreign students. It is interesting to note that, at first it was only the students who participated, but now even Russian parishioners join in for this Mass. Mass would be celebrated in Russian language, but reading, sermon and songs are performed in different languages. Therefore, some of our parishioners participate to understand the beauty of internationality.
Before Mass we have a conference on a topic chosen by the students. And during the conference we try to analyse and explain the theme and give time for questions to clarify the doubts. It is the most interesting moment, when we see how they actively participate in the meeting and help each other explain their thoughts. Even two hours that we give for this spiritual exercise, sometimes seems not enough! After the conference, we have the sacrament of reconciliation followed by the Holy Eucharist. After the Mass, we gather in the parish hall for dinner prepared by our SSpS sisters. This is an opportunity for us to be together, to share our life and get to know each other to strengthen our relationship.
As part of our spiritual formation to these students, we organise retreat days (usually three to four days) before Christmas and Easter (sometimes during the holiday period as well). During this time, we organise conferences, small group discussions, open forums, personal meeting with priests, games and movies. All those spiritual activities have helped them strengthen their relationship with God and with each other. We also talk and share about our country, our culture and traditions. The student community has a choir group, which meets every Saturday for rehearsal. They sing about two to three songs at the Sunday Mass. It brings a great feeling as one family worshipping together. They also volunteer in the parish works whenever there is a need. We are hoping to extend this relationship with other foreign students in our neighbouring parishes and build a strong network of student communities.
Last year, we began a catechism programme for those who are preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation. Three students have received the Sacrament of Baptism as part of this programme and three more are preparing themselves now. It has been a fulfilling ministry with the foreign students in Tambov. I feel that the student community of Tambov is well integrated in the Parish life and would cooperate with the pastoral team for the ministry in the Church. We ask for your prayers for the success of this ministry.
By Germain Mukinisa, SVD.