Berdsk, Siberia: a new church surfacing, thanks also to the help of many Italian Benefactors, on the ashes of the old structure, burned five years ago. A gift for the Catholic community: Paolo Paganini, is following closely the work, here he recounts his experience for us.

Dear Friends,

Finally, thanks to the donations collected in Italy, we have begun the second phase of the work that is engaging our attention, the construction of the church of Berdsk, which is a city found in the territory of Novosibirsk. The parish, entrusted to Fr. Alfredo Fecondo, is named after St. Joseph. The church that was here before burned down in a fire five years. On the foundation, which we laid in November, we are now building the load-bearing walls of the main church. In these days things are beginning to thaw; there is a curious contrast which is not uncommon here: on the side exposed to the South the trees are already green, however on the side facing North there are still many accumulations of snow. At the end of March, rivers of mud and water entrenched the streets of Berdsk: for ten days it was impossible to reach the construction site walking. To begin working, we had to clear the street. We asked Mrs. Olga, a parishioner who attends to this type of work, to create a kind of team who could remove and transport the snow from the street. The day before the workers arrived, I went to see how things were going (and understand the costs…). Waiting for the arrival of the others, Olga and I cleared the entrance. In this way, also Olga was able to give her contribution. There were many who arrived to help, even the sisters of the convent who brought their camera. On April 1st, they finished clearing the area. The following day was Sunday and after the Mass, together with a few parishioners, we went to see how the work was progressing. There was a tractor that was stuck in the ice. I tried to free it by removing the blocks of ice that were surrounding it. I discovered that you don’t find the ice on the ground, it is the ground. Underneath, there was only a layer of swampy soil which I sunk into up to my ankles… thank goodness I was on my way to say Mass in an apartment nearby where I was able to borrow socks and shoes from the owner of the apartment…

The bricklayers that work for the construction team are likable. Before Good Friday, I wrote to the engineer asking him to suspend the work for five minutes, at 3:00 pm, as we used to always do. He responded kindly: “certainly!”. However, when I arrived on the work site at 3:40pm, I discovered that they obviously had not taken five minutes to be in silence. We decided together to take the break at 4:45pm: in reality, when Jesus died, it was not even close to three o’clock in Siberia…

I had with me the Eucharist because in the room where we meet to celebrate the Mass there is no tabernacle. I prayed in silence in the future presbytery, where the alter would be built. The bricklayers were all in an angle, also they were in silence. One of them took out a cigarette, but he waited for the prayer to finish before lighting it.

The experience of being with those who are working on constructing the church was particular and beautiful. One of them asked me if it was a sin to work on Holy Friday. The following day, before the Easter Vigil, I passed by the construction site to see if they had fixed the disposition of some bricks. It was past six, there was one bricklayer making rounds as the guardian of the site. He enthusiastically told me that he had found icons. In reality, he had found holy cards with the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. There was also a wooden Station of The Cross, preserved from the fire that had burned down the previous church. He asked me if it was a good sign to find these icons during the Vigil of Easter: I responded that it certainly wasn’t a bad sign. Some of these bricklayers will be our neighbors: they are very positive and simple people.

This Easter we baptized Alya, a girl originally from Kazakhstan, who comes from an atheist family. She encountered the Church when she was living in Palavinnoe, which is a small town four hours from Novosibirsk. In palavinnoe, there is Fr. Francesco Bertolina, who has been active there for 25 years. When she was a small girl she often went to Mass. Through the years, the desire to be baptized matured in her, “to encounter Jesus”. This simple phrase said by Fr. Francesco was preserved and guarded for years in the heart of Alya and today it has been brought into the entrance of the Church. To celebrate, I brought a bottle of Champaign. Nobody wanted it. I was not even able to open it outside on the work site because the construction manager said that drinking in the zone was not allowed. And yet, people say that in Russia you drink a lot! The bottle is still in the refrigerator… We will drink it when the church is finished!


In the photo, the new church being constructed in Berdsk.

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