They found their place in distant Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is a country to the east of the Caspian See, created in 1991 as the result of the fall of the Soviet Union. For most of us it is a mysterious, almost exotic country. On the one hand, this is confirmed by its geographical situation: it lies partly in Europe and partly in Asia; it borders with China and Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, which sound odd, and the ‘known’ Russian Federation. On the other hand, its climate is hard for us – the extremes are norms. And it was in Kazakhstan that the Carmelite Discalced Sisters from the Czestochowa cloister found their place. They regularly send our editorial board letters on various occasions, mainly holidays, informing what has happened there, about their first encounter with the Kazakhstan land, difficult beginnings, struggles and joys, taking perpetual vows in Kazakhstan by Sr. Elzbieta of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The purpose of going to Kazakhstan
We learn from their Easter 2009 letter to Rev. Msg Ireneusz Skubis, the editor-in-chief of ‘Niedziela’, about the purpose of their leaving for the East and about whom they dedicated their efforts, ‘We left Czestochowa on the 90th anniversary of the apparitions in Fatima. We dedicated the foundation of our Carmel to Our Lady of Fatima […] Sr. Lucia promised to be spiritually united with this Carmel that will be the first in the East. We dedicate our joys and concerns to her intercession and we are experiencing her help.’
Life in the steppe
On the feast of Mary Queen of Peace, 25 June 2007, the Czestochowa sisters opened the Divine Mercy and Immaculate Heart of Mary foundation of their congregation in Oziornoje. They came to the territories inhabited by the descendents of Poles who had been deported from Podolia in 1936, who ‘saved faith and life, saved mankind though prayer, including the rosary (they made rosaries themselves), recited always and necessarily in secret. The Eucharist was also celebrated in secret. The Blessed Sacrament was kept and other sacraments were administered.’ The sisters settled in a small house (built in 1957) that the inhabitants of Oziornoje offered them. They had to begin the renovation of the house: enlarge it by adding a boiler house, bathrooms; they had to change the electrical installation, windows, doors. They had to buy coal, etc – simply adjust the modest little house to the long Kazakhstan winters. The interesting thing is that in Kazakhstan women do most men’s works. That’s why the sisters energetically began all kinds of work, which they described in their letters. For example, they polished the slats of their religious grate that separated the chapel from the sisters’ part (the religious choir). As the nuns stress it is Lord God that supports their projects and today their small house in Kazakhstan and its enlargement meet the requirements of a small convent where the Blessed Sacrament has found its constant place, put there by Archbishop Tomasz Peta, the first parish priest in Oziornoje, and today the Metropolitan of the Our Lady Archdiocese in Astana, which embraces Oziornoje. As the sisters write one can see the lack of the sense of sacrum among contemporary Christians in Kazakhstan. The young and middle-aged people receive the sacraments less and less frequently. They also less frequently enter into sacramental marriages. On the contrary, they more frequently use the white and black magic. The sects spread very quickly and that’s why the presence and testimony of religious people are so important in the Kazakhstan land. The local Church prays for ‘God’s madmen’: priests, men and women religious that the Church needs very badly. The numbers are alarming, ‘In our archdiocese, which is twice as big as the whole territory of Poland, there are ca. 40 priests’, the Carmelite sisters write and they add that they have hope in spite of all the circumstances. ‘The Church in Kazakhstan – the land full of tears, suffering, unimaginable pain of thousands of martyrs, deportees – is being renewed. For many of them who were forced to reject God from their hearts the Church was the only support. People gave their children prayer books in Polish, which they had brought in their deportees’ bags, as the most valuable treasures. We found such prayer books and religious books in our house, too. One of the inhabitants of Oziornoje, a deportees’ daughter, recollected her father who told her on his death bed, I have no silver and gold but the most precious thing I have I am giving to you’, and he handed her moved family his prayer book. These books have been preserved as relics and last wills.
Return to the sources
The stay in Kazakhstan has brought only good for the sisters. As they write, ‘poverty of nature, destroyed landscape, limitless steppe, the horizon connecting the sky and the land, the unique beauty of sunsets and sunrises, the starry sky, the severe climate – all of them make man humble towards the power of the Almighty and dependent on him alone’, in a way letting man return to the beginnings – the sources of the charism of the Carmelite congregation, to the heritage of ‘the Saints of Mount Carmel whose lives we want to follow’, so to the first figure of Carmel – the prophet Elijah. Living in the steppe, 25 km away from the asphalt road, without television, radio and Internet, thus practically without any access to the civilisation of the 21st century, favours silence, contemplation, adoration and prayer, i.e. the attributes of the contemplative life. And it was in the Kazakhstan steppe that the Carmelite sisters from Czestochowa: Sr. Joanna Maria of the Resurrected Jesus, Sr. Ewa Maria of the Eucharist and Sr. Elzbieta of Our Lady of Mount Carmel have experienced the admirable, close presence of God, realising their talents and creating unity in the national and religious variety. ‘We are happy here and we are very much needed here’, they say and ask for prayers to endure in their calling and to continue joyfully God’s will in the Kazakh land, and also for donations transferred to the bank account: 48 1240 1213 1111 0000 2379 7460, with the note, ‘Donation for the Carmel in Kazakhstan.’