Our Lady of Hope: Catholic Ministry in Moscow
By Susan Hetherington
For English and French speakers in Moscow, there is a wonderful weekly service conducted in the crypt, or lower level, at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of the Virgin Mary in Moscow on Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Ulitza 27 at the civilized hour of noon on Sundays. Father Michael Ryan of the Catholic order of Marist Priests conducts Mass simultaneously in English and French. When I arrived one Sunday, the worship space was emptying out from a previous service conducted for the Korean community. I decided this was a truly international setting since the before-mentioned crypt is in the “Polish” Cathedral or St. Mary’s, where the service is conducted in Russian, Polish and other languages in the grand sanctuary above.
Arriving one lovely Sunday morning, and going down a small flight of stairs, I was welcomed by a smiling usher who found me a seat in an interesting space of whitewashed vaulted ceilings, stone walls, and with an alter placed in the center of a slightly shortened cross-shaped room or crypt. When the services began, I then understood the simultaneous language aspect of the Mass. Father Michael recites the prayers, and delivers the sermon first in English and then in French. On other Sundays, I am told, he reverses the process of French and then in English. Readings from the bible are either recited in English or French with the corresponding language printed in the program. Somehow, I found it very relaxing to listen to the Holy Scripture in French, which I understand only slightly. I imagine that it might be a little like listening to a service in Latin; comforting, if not completely understandable.
Services are held at St Mary’s since there is no designated church space in Moscow at the present time. Someday this may happen, but the growing congregation makes do with borrowed space in this convenient location. There is a mix of African French-speaking members of Our Lady of Hope with a growing Philippine community speaking Tagalog and English. Other members of the church community come from the general English and Frenchspeaking expatriate population of Moscow and naturalized Russian citizens and their families. What I found most amazing was the talent and energy of the small choirs singing in French, English and Tagalog with accompaniment by acoustical guitars and drums. The vaulted ceilings give back an incredible musical sound.
Father Michael is available for special Masses on request, as well as Confession and Sacraments by appointment, and there are Masses for all of the high holy days of the Roman Catholic Church. The tightly knit community of congregants takes care of each other, and those in need somehow find their way to the parish’s door. The Community supports Caritas-Academica; helping mixed race families and young and older people in difficulties in Moscow with used clothes, donated food and a welcome in a city that offers little to those who have dark skin, a different religion and many cases, a different language.
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