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Rome Reports

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From Spain to Russia. Why a priest decided to leave it all behind

He actually asked to be transferred. The first option was to go to the country of Kazakhstan, because of its lack of priests, but then things changed.

FR. ALEKSANDER BURGOS-VELASCO Pastor,  St. Petersburg (Russia) "I offered to go to Kazakhstan, but in the end that didn't turn out. So I asked my bishop, 'What now? Where do I go? So we agreed that the next option was Russia.'â?

Before staring this new chapter, he decided to first stop in Rome, to receive a blessing from John Paul II.  Just like that, his life changed. He left the Spain's sun behind and instead welcomed Russia's snow.

FR. ALEKSANDER BURGOS-VELASCO Pastor,  St. Petersburg (Russia) "I remember my first day there. I took the subway to go to the Cathedral, where I was going to meet the bishop. We bought a bottle of Coca Cola and during that short trip from the metro to the church, the coke actually froze. It was minus 15, or 16 degrees. So we definitely weren't prepared for that.â?

Otests Aleksander says there is no official data on the number of Catholics in Russia, but it's estimated that the number ranges from 600,000 to 1 million, so about point six percent of the population.

FR. ALEKSANDER BURGOS-VELASCO Pastor,  St. Petersburg (Russia) "The Russian government had its list of people it was keeping an eye on. First on the list were the Chechens and then, the Catholics. It was a tense environment and when you went there, the tension was noticeable.â?

That tension was quite direct. In fact his parish, St. John the Baptist, was confiscated by the government and at one point it was used as a storage room.

FR. ALEKSANDER BURGOS-VELASCO Pastor,  St. Petersburg (Russia) "When we first arrived, the parish was in a difficult situation. The church was built in 1811. The Soviets eventually confiscated it and turned it into a storage room for bikes. Then in 1984 when a reconstruction came about, called the 'Perestroika,' the church was made into a classical music concert hall, which was much better. In 1991 they slowly began to allow religious celebrations there. But then the government kicked the parish priest out and took the keys. So we had to fight a little to get them back.â?

Currently Father Aleksander is also the pastor of another church in Komi, a federal republic that's dependent on Russia. Progress is slow, but real. Each year less than a dozen people from that area convert to Catholicism.

FR. ALEKSANDER BURGOS-VELASCO Pastor,  St. Petersburg (Russia) "There have been many, but I guess it all depends on how you see it. At least for the heart of a pastor there are many, but not enough. It's a good way to actually see how an evangelization should be carried out effectively. About ten people have converted per year. Its a beautiful thing. We've had all types of people.  From people getting baptized, to people converting from the Orthodox and Protestant Church.â?

There are many more priests like Father Aleksander, who have left their home country to spread the message of the Gospel in a non Christian country. Instead of promoting the New Evangelization, in a way they find themselves teaching the 'first' evangelization.