The most northern Asian Salesian mission - Yakutia (IV)
Yakutia, Sakha Republic (Russian Federation), 6 October 2017 -- One of the most challenging missionary territories in the world, YAKUTIA, does stretch northern of Mongolia delegation and covers about 3.5 million square kilometers (like Indonesia) with a population of 970.000 souls (less than Timor Leste) and 500 baptized Catholics. Yakutia belongs to the largest Catholic diocese on the Earth (Irkutsk) with about 9.9 million square kilometers with 40 priests, 94 religious and 53.000 faithful. Indeed a challenging mission frontier!
The courageous missionaries - founders arrived from Slovakia in July 1992 (exactly the same time like the first missionaries of CICM to Mongolia), but until now the SDB community located in two places (Yakutsk - capital of the Sakha Republic-Yakutia and Aldan) with a distance of 500 km are the only Catholic missionaries with a community of 500 faithful baptized over these years.
Among the striking characteristics of this extreme mission is the ecumenical trait. Before the Russian Bolshevik revolution of Lenin (1917) most of the Siberia region of Yakutia was nominally almost completely baptized by the Orthodox Church supported by the Tsar government. With 200 Orthodox Churches and chapels stretching from the Mongolia boarder until the Arctic Northern Sea there were also many Catholic migrants (Germans, Lituan and Polish) who were supported sometimes by priest based in 3000 km distant city of Irkutsk (seat of the Catholic bishop Mons. Cyryl Klimowitz).
However the three generation gap of communist - atheist regime (1917-1993) until the collapse of Soviet Union eliminated the great majority of the Orthodox priests, seminaries and even now, after 25 years of revival there are only 50 Orthodox Churches with 40 priests and 15 seminarians. On our side there within the same territory only 3 Catholic parishes with 4 SDB priests within the territory of 3 million square kilometers.
Yakutia is also a territory of some of the most infamous 'Gulag' (Soviet era forced exile and labour camp) where perished thousands of Christians of all denominations, most of them Orthodox. Before the Great Jubilee of 2000 many of them were recognized as 'New Era Martyrs' by the Orthodox Patriarchs. Our confreres use to visit as pilgrimage the rest of one Gulag camp - 'Vasilievka' - about 80 km from our Aldan community.
The intense 'dialogue of life' between the large majority of Orthodox faihtul and their shepherds and tiny minority of few Catholics is based on inter-personal relationship, mutual invitation, learning from each other. Our Salesians in Yakutia are eagerly waiting for another seminar for the Salesians working in Orthodox environment. Indeed the most recent seminar was held many years ago in 2001.