For Father Erich Fink, bringing about the conversion of Russia is a lifelong dream -- one that began when he was working in the fields of Germany at only age 10.
Now the priest does pastoral work in Berezniki, in west central Russia. He says that the call made by Our Lady of Fatima -- to pray for Russia's conversion -- is still pertinent today.
Father Fink spoke with the television program "Where God Weeps" of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
Q: Father, Russia was a childhood dream of yours. Why?
Father Fink: I think it was a call of Mary of Fatima. I knew about Russia through my father. He was in Russia for seven years as a young man during the war; three years as a soldier and four years as a prisoner of war. He always talked very fondly about the Russian people. He spoke of the Russian women who would throw bread over the prison wall to them, knowing that it was illegal and punishable by death. He later returned to Germany and married my mother.
We suffered greatly during those early years. As children we looked for how we could help our family in these difficulties and we discovered the Fatima prayer. Our Lady of Fatima promised to alleviate especially family problems so we started praying the rosary. It was during this time that the message became clear to me: World peace was dependent on the conversion of Russia. I then decided that I wanted to work there.
Q: How old were you?
Father Fink: I was 10 years old. Within five years I knew clearly that I wanted to become a priest. And already at that time, I wanted to go to Russia and assist in this conversion.
Q: Was there a particular person that inspired you?
Father Fink: No person inspired me. I remember I was in the fields; we were farmers, and I had this inspiration and I knew then that at some point in time I was going to become a priest and the desire to go to Russia was very strong. I used all possibilities for this to happen. I heard that Tatiana Goracheva was coming to Germany. I looked for and met her…
Q: Tatiana Goricheva was a Lithuanian dissident who was imprisoned for many years and told her conversion story …
Father Fink: Yes, she was an atheistic philosopher and she converted. She then started to preach and give testimony of her newfound faith and as a result she was arrested and exiled. I met her and told her that I wanted to work as a priest in Russia. She said: "It is unrealistic and in your lifetime Russia will not change."
Q: What was the greatest challenge that you encountered when you first went to Berezniki?
Father Fink: My greatest problem at that time was the language. I only knew the alphabet and I could not speak even a sentence.
Q: What are the challenges you face while working in Russia?
Father Fink: From the morning to the evening people come to me and ask for spiritual and material help. At every moment, I have to decide, however, how to provide help and ask myself this: "Is it a sincere desire for spiritual help? What is the right way for us to provide social assistance?" I also have to help the people, to lead the people to be independent in making decisions and finding their own solutions in improving their lives. These are the great challenges.
Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the Catholic Church in Russia?
Father Fink: We must give a testimony of the divine dignity of every human person. This is the greatest need in Russia. We have so many problems: alcoholism, drug addiction and children on the streets. Every person has a divine dignity. This dignity can be nourished with a holistic approach that not only involves social works but also has to involve spiritual nourishment. The Catholic Church has the possibilities to do this. The Orthodox Church has less experience in these social works and we -- Catholics -- can help. We, however, have to understand the Russian mentality in order to be able to provide the right help and at the same time we must understand and love the Orthodox Church. We have to understand that we are guests and the conversion and renewal of the faith can come only through and in the Orthodox Church. In order to help the Orthodox Church we must understand the Church.
Q: Father, if you were to make an appeal now to Catholics, what would your appeal be?
Father Fink: My appeal is to have an understanding for Russia. I see, especially in Europe and the West, that there are so many doubts: It’s not a democratic system and so on. This doesn’t help. Russia must be a strong country in order to solve all her problems, and it’s on the right track. Russia needs moral support from all the faithful and that they be joyful at the developments. But we need not only understanding, we need prayers. In Fatima when Our Lady asked that all Catholics pray for the conversion of Russia we knew that Communism was finished. Many now are thinking that it is not necessary to continue praying for Russia. We need prayers and spiritual support now more than ever because Russia is, only now, starting her conversion; she has not been converted yet.
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.