Hills Dale Collegian: The Power of Catholicism in the Soviet Union

Suffering under religious oppression as a child in the Soviet Union foster a special appreciation for the importance of Catholic families, said a bishop from Kazakhstan in a speech at Christ Chapel on Oct. 14.

Bishop Athanasius Schneider described his boyhood exile to a gulag. In the Soviet prison camp, he could participate in the Catholic Mass only via underground gatherings.

“The majority of the priests were imprisoned or murdered,” Schneider said. “In my childhood, we rarely had a holy Mass. And if a priest suddenly came, it was a feast for us. But it had an atmosphere of silence, because of the dangers of the police.”

Due to the scarcity of clergymen and the illegality of worship in his youth, Schneider said he developed an affinity for other elements of Catholicism, specifically the importance of a strong, Catholic family.

“On Sundays, the families gathered,” he said. “But, only in their houses, so as to be quiet behind closed doors and windows. And then, my parents and my siblings started to sanctify the Sunday, with bread, praying the rosary, and doing spiritual communion.”

In this way, the bishop said his family saved his and his siblings’ faith lives, despite the dangers of the outside world.

“In school, they had propaganda that was against God,” Schneider said. “But we had some immunity because my parents protected us with their prayers, and they were teaching us the Catholic faith. And so, this is the mission of the family: to transmit the greatest treasure to the next generation.”

The bishop called young members of the audience to go out and create their own virtuous, Catholic families.

“This is the beautiful vocation of the Catholic family: to be a domestic church,” he said. “I see you, so many dear young people, and I hope you will find, in God’s grace, this domestic church.”

The bishop said hope for the future will also aid the Catholic community through times of hardship.

“Therefore, we have to pray,” Schneider said, “for courageous shepherds, for teachers who will defend us like they did in the first centuries.”

Schneider said he explains this call to prayer in his new book, “The Spring Time in the Church that Never Came,” which will be released in the U.S. this spring. He said  God is preparing the soil for a new and flourishing time of the Church.

The role of young people in forming this new church is to practice purity, integrity, and chastity whenever possible, and create strong Catholic children who live by those same morals, he said.

Schneider then read excerpts of works by other faith leaders, such as Pope Pius XII, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and St. Philip Howard to demonstrate that faith is a Catholic’s strongest weapon when fighting adversity.

To close, Schneider asked the mother of God to intercede for those in attendance, and blessed the audience members.

“After all that he said, I was struck by his simple and beautiful elevation of the Catholic family,” sophomore Caleb Holm said. “That’s what it comes down to: a small group of people where the primary goal is to take care of one another in this life and ensure that heaven is their next. Family is everything and it is holy.”

Others said they were drawn to the bishop’s style of speech.

“Even in both the presentation and the content of his talk, Bishop Schneider showed his humility toward faith,” junior Mathias Rhein said. “He authentically portrayed Catholicism as it is. Even the tone of voice which he used showed the reverence he holds for orthodox doctrine.”

Originally appeared in Hills Dale Collegian.