Rorate Caeli

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima in the heart of the Gulag Archipelago

The camp officers and groups of the camp guards would go afoot or ride through it in droves, like occupying forces; the camp administration would be the city's main institution; the telephone network would not belong to the city, but to the camps; the bus routes would all lead from the city's center to the camps; and all the town inhabitants would earn their living off the camps.

The largest of such provincial capitals of the [Gulag] Archipelago was Karaganda. It was created by and filled with exiles and former prisoners to such a degree that a veteran zek [inmate] could not walk the street without running into old acquaintances. The city had several camp administrations. And individual camps were scattered all around it like the sands of the sea.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago, II


In the heart of the ancient Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, in Karaganda (northern Kazakhstan), a work of art in the shape of a Cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima will be consecrated next Sunday, September 9, 2012. The new Cathedral of Karaganda is in great measure the work of an indefatigable friend of Tradition, Bp. Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary of Astana, who did the best he could to build a temple worthy of the tradition of the Church, of Our Lady of Fatima, and as a memorial of the victims of Communism.

The Bollettino published the designation of the Papal Legate and mission that will be present at the consecration, and Zenit has an interview (in Italian) with Bp. Schneider. Some excerpts below:

What is the historical and spiritual meaning of the construction of this Cathedral at Karaganda?

Bp. Schneider: The first reason was this: to have a cathedral in a more dignified and visible place. Because the diocese of Karaganda used up to now a building that had still been built at the time of persecution, and this building is in the outskirts of the town and not exteriorly recognizable as a church.

A cathedral in a more central place, built in an unmistakeably Catholic tradition, that is, in the Neogothic style, will be a silent, yet also potent, sign and means of evangelization in a world in which Catholics are about 1% or 2% of the population, in which the majority of the inhabitants are Muslims, and where there is a strong Orthodox minority. Moreover, a considerable part of the population does not belong to any religion, they are people who search God.

The historical and spiritual meaning also has this dimension: the new Cathedral is a sacred place for the remembrance of the countless victims of the Communist regime, since there was around Karaganda one of the largest and most terrible concentration camps - of the Gulag - in which people belonging to 100 different ethnicities suffered. At the same time, the new Cathedral will also be a shrine for prayer of expiation for the crimes of the Atheistic and Communist regime.

Could you explain to us the spiritual and theological meaning of the paintings you had done for the Crypt?

Bp. Schneider: I wished to express in the Cathedral, in a deeper way, the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, because the Eucharist [is what] spiritually builds up the Church, the Eucharist makes the Church live continuously up unto the end of time. The true foundation of the Church is the Eucharist. For this reason, I placed in the crypt, almost at the foundation of the Cathedral, a cycle of 14 images on the Eucharist, in an analogy with the 14 stations of the Via Crucis of the main nave. The entire Sacred Scripture announces Christ made flesh, made man, to us. Christ made himself Eucharist, he left to us really his flesh, truly and substantially present in the Eucharistic mystery. In a certain sense, we can say: the entire Holy Writ announces Christ to us in the mystery of the Eucharist. I have chosen the most widely known eucharistic images in Sacred Scripture, that is, the most widely known eucharistic symbology: the sacrifice of Abel, the sacrifice of Melchisedech, the sacrifice of Abraham, the Paschal Lamb, manna in the desert, the food given to the Prophet Elijah on the path to the mountain of God, the Temple in Jerusalem, Bethlehem as "the house of bread", the miracle in the wedding at Cana, the multiplication of the loaves, the Eucharistic speech in the Gospel according to John, the Last Supper, Emmaus, the Lamb in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

[Source and more images: Suburbicarian Diocese of Porto-Santa Rufina