Return from Russia
Even before becoming a Jesuit, one of the Jesuits I had come to admire most was Walter Ciszek, an American Jesuit who spent 24 years imprisoned in Russia and who was thought to be dead before his surprising return to the United States, in exchange for two Soviet agents.
As part of its centennial, America is reprinting some of its classic articles. This week's is Walter Ciszek's reflections upon his return from Russia. Here's an excerpt:
The more I see here in America, the stranger it seems in a way. For the contrast between that hidden faith [In Russia], fluttering as if it were always about to go out and yet somehow remaining alight, and the open, free and almost proud profession of faith in this country is simply staggering.
Yet when I walked through St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, do you know what impressed me most? The few people, out of all the crowds streaming by, who came in through those open doors to make a visit. I understand that my impression was not fair, that at noontime on a working day the church is jammed with office workers who take time out from their lunch hour to go to Mass and to Communion. At first glance religion here seems almost a formality, an obligation that can be dispensed with if you have been out late the night before.
In Siberia, when I said Mass, people risked arrest to come; here, they risk nothing, neither do they always come. In Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk, when people learned a priest was in town or was saying Mass at such and such a place, they came for miles, bringing their children to be baptized, going to confession before Mass and then Communion during Mass, asking to have their marriages blessed after Mass, begging me to come and bless their homes or sing the panikida (a requiem service) for members of the family who had died. They came to huts, to barracks rooms, to private homes, and they risked their jobs, their union membership, their chance for an apartment or an education for their children. Having ministered to such faith, therefore, it was incredible to me to think that people here could look on Sunday Mass as an obligation, or the supporting of their parish and their school as a burden.
I should repeat again that these were my first reactions, my impressions, and are not meant in any way as criticisms. I am only reporting what struck me when I first looked at America again. As a priest who had worked very hard to help people who were so eager just to be able to go to Mass, I could not help being struck, thunderstruck, at this initial impression of indifference to religion in a country where there was nothing to restrain its open practice.
You can read the rest here.