A Joint Catholic-Orthodox Conference on Addiction in Russia
Every year, according to World Health Organization statistics, some 200,000 people die from drug addiction – and around 3 million from alcohol addiction. That is just about equivalent to the population of a major city like Chicago! And an immense number of people are plunged by addiction into a vicious spiral of misery from which they cannot find their way out again, often dragging down their families and loved ones into despair as well.
The Catholic Church and other Christian groups are at the forefront of the efforts to respond to this global crisis. In Russia, the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are working closely together to combat this challenge and minister to and support these addicts and their families.
In October of this year (2018), for the second time, and once again with financial support from ACN, an ecumenical conference was held in Saint Petersburg on the problems of addiction. The participants included representatives from Russia, the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Belarus, Romania and other countries also.
Peter Humeniuk, who heads the Russia desk for the international Catholic pastoral charity ACN, was also present at the conference. He reports: “The conference was an important forum at which representatives of both our Churches were able not only to discuss the theoretical aspects of the problem but also exchange their practical experiences. We hope that the spirit of ecumenical exchange and close collaboration between us will help the victims of addiction and their families to find their way out of the darkness this addiction has plunged them into.”
One of the main objectives of the conference has been to establish a program for the seminaries of both faiths, so that the seminarians can be better prepared for dealing with the problems of addiction in their future pastoral work. The aim is also to help the priests of both Churches to be aware of the particular pastoral needs and problems of addicts. As experience has shown, those suffering addiction often have a profound need for a closer relationship with God.
Also among the participants was Russian Orthodox Father Sergej Belkov, who for 20 years now has been running a very successful center for addicts in the Saint Petersburg area. Many of these addicts have found healing and new life in the warm family atmosphere of this center, with its focus on individual attention and an ordered, regular life marked by prayer, spirituality and hard work. It is likewise a project that has been supported by ACN ever since it began.
The conference in Saint Petersburg marks a further achievement of the ACN-sponsored Catholic-Orthodox working group. This initiative was established following the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in February 2016 in the Cuban capital Havana. The working party has already held a number of meetings on issues such as the protection of unborn life and tackling drug and alcohol addiction. A further aim of these initiatives is to help Catholic and Orthodox Christians to join forces and work together to tackle some of the most pressing problems and challenges of the modern era, exchanging experiences and thereby growing closer together.
Thanks to the generous support of our benefactors we were able to give $16,500 towards the cost of holding this important conference.
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