On October 17, 1939, The Red Army had entered a small town called Albertyn in Poland. It came clear that Germany and Russia were dividing up Poland. Father Walter was a young American parish priest. Many people began to not show up to church because they were scared that they would get caught. More and more people began to turn away from God. Walter talks about how even at the roughest of times, you should always stay faithful to God. Chapter 2: The Decision to Enter Russia: A friend of Father Walters was a man named Father Makar.
He planned to cancel the Albertyn mission and instead go to Russia where they would work in Russian factories around the Ural Mountains. Father Walter thought this to be a great idea to continue his missions in Russia. He suffered of the dilemma of not know if this was God’s will for him to go to Russia or to stay there in Albertyn. At first he decided to stay in Albertyn because that’s where he was wanted but concluded on going to Russia because that brought him joy and interior peace that are marks of God’s true intervention of the soul. Chapter 3: Russia:
Father Walter was very excited when they crossed into Russia. The men had been hired by Lespromhoz, which was a big Soviet lumber combine that was hiring men in the Ural regions. The working conditions were pretty rough but that didn’t bother them compared to the fact that it was against the law to spread the truths of faith and foster religion. Father Walter and his friends were thinking of going back to Poland where he knew they could actually act like priests and help those who needed it there instead of hiding the fact that they were priests in Russia. Chapter 4: Arrest and Imprisonment:
The German Army launched its blitzkrieg into Russia on June 22, 1941. The Soviet Union immediately declared a state of war. At three in the morning, Father Walter, Father Nestrov and three of their roommates were arrested at gun point and accused of being German spies. Not just them but hundreds of other people, some teachers and lawyers, were arrested maybe for the slightest suspicion that they could be spies. Father Walter felt hopeless and rejected while in the prison cell. He was trapped with no way out under the prisons authority and he wanted to help the people in the cell but nobody believed in Christ anymore.
Chapter 5: Lubianka: Father Walter was considered to be a Vatican Spy. Because of that, he was transferred to the Lubianka Prison. The rooms were nicer there, Father Walter said, but the cells were farther apart from each other and everything was in silence all day long. Father Walter would stay in that prison for 5 years. Father Walter would use these times of loneliness as times for prayer. Chapter 6: The Interrogations: The first interrogations for Father Walter were kind of easy but they soon became very annoying. Some would last for days and he would have to go through so many.
He soon became nervous that he would make a mistake because then they would think he was lying and he could get in a lot of trouble. At the final interrogation, Father Walter was forced to sign the papers that he was a spy. If he didn’t, he would be killed before sunset. He signed the papers and felt very ashamed. He went back to his cell and prayed to God for forgiveness. Chapter 7: Four Years of Purgatory: Two weeks after signing the papers, Father Walter was informed with his punishment of 15 years of hard labor. On top of that, Father Walter would still get four more years of interrogations.
It was even mentioned that he might go to a prison camp. All Father Walter could do it turn to prayer. He was scared of the thought that he could die. At the next interview, Father Walter was told to serve as chaplain in the newly formed army of Polish communist. The next time he meet with the interrogator, he said the people wanted him to go to Rome and serve as an intermediary between the Kremlin and the Vatican. Chapter 8: In Transit: Father Walter began his long journey from Moscow to Siberia. He was packed onto prison trains like cattle.
From being in prison for 5 years, he was dying to know what important events have happened. He describes how differently he is from the prisoners and how they have nothing in common. He soon came to understand that underneath their violent exterior and moral code that they were men driven by fear. Father Walter would be laboring in a vineyard and actually looked forward to it because he would be able to converse with people and do something. Chapter 9: The Body: At the Siberian slave labor camps it was very harsh. Father Walter would work 15 hours straight shoveling coal onto a conveyer belt.
He describes the pain he went through but yet still had to push on. They were also not given enough food for the amount of work that the men did. He explains how the barracks only provided enough shelter to make survival possible. He would say that his muscles felt like they were all strung out by the end of each day and how it was almost impossible to move each morning when they woke up at 5 A. M. Chapter 10: Work: Every laborer is assigned a quota and if they fulfill the quota, then they can eat. If you do not meet the quota then you are given just enough rations to stay alive.
Almost everybody was on the level of starvation and everybody had to fight to survive. Father had the lowest difficulty of work but after getting caught preaching to the other prisoners, then he was put in the highest level of difficulty. Chapter 11: The Priesthood: The greatest part of the Siberian prison camps was that he could have mass again. Priests were under strict surveillance they let the prisoners know that the priest’s activities were immediately known by the informers. Many prisoners would come to the priests for absolution from their sins and the power of the sacrament. Chapter 12: The Apostolate:
Father Walters aim was to help people find God and attain eternal life. He didn’t just want to go to Russia but God convinced him to go because the people needed him to spread the word. He would say the spiritual pain and suffering was worse than the physical pain and suffering. He would fulfill the best of his abilities and rounds of prayer to help the prisoners that even the hard labor could be productive in bringing the kingdom of God to them. Chapter 13: The Meaning of Mass: At different times it was very difficult to say Mass. There was always the risk of getting caught or how the prisoners might not agree with them.
Father Walter and Father Victor would say the Mass when nobody was around and if they couldn’t have it they would at least have communion every day. They did get caught one time while they were in their barrack but didn’t get in trouble. Some prisoners would fast all day even after the hard physical labor just to receive the Eucharist. Chapter 14: Retreats: The work was still very tough and especially on the priests. Even though Father Walter was young, most of the priests were older men that couldn’t keep up with the hard work every day. They were on the brink of discouragement and despair.
Father Walter set up retreats for the priests to go on to talk about God and to spread the word and maybe find a prisoner that would like to become a priest or just become really faithful to God. Chapter 15: The Fear of Death: It was a close call when there was a revolt at one of the camps at the prison. They had all the men lined up with the soldiers pointing guns at their heads. Father Walter was very scared and thought he was going to die but soon the soldiers let and didn’t kill anybody. Father Walter talks about how you should not fear death but embrace it.
He says death is feared by those who don’t believe and who have no hope or I could be the fear of facing God because of the things you might have done. Death is the return to God and the Father who first created us. Chapter 16: Freedom: Father Walter got new that he would be leaving the prison in 10 days. He was very excited and couldn’t believe his 15 years was over. On the last day he signed out, got his papers and left the prison a free man. There were a few restrictions that he had to follow of that he couldn’t live in the major cities and if he were to visit them it could not exceed 3 days and the police had to know about it.
He talks about hoe freedom is great and you don’t know what you’re missing until you don’t have it. Spiritually he felt freer and would not continue to be a priest on the Soviet Union. Chapter 17: The Kingdom of God: When Father Walter reached Norilsk, the first thing he did was look for a priest named Father Viktor that was released four months earlier. He found him in a town outside the city in a boloks, which was like a hut or a shack with Father Neron. Many people in the boloks came to see them for mass every Sunday in their crowded room and corridor.
It was surprising because Russia would support Atheism everywhere but yet there were so many believers. In the few churches that were left, they would be packed by people of all different ages. Chapter 18: Humility: Father Walter set up the Easter Mass at a chapel and set different times for people to come in Norilsk. He had a tremendous outcome of people show up. The Mass ended at 3 A. M. and he didn’t finish giving out communion until 9 A. M. A week later he was called to the KGB and was told that his missionary work was not needed and he would be sent to Krasnoyarsk by plane.
He felt humiliated at first but soon knew this was God’s plan for him. Chapter 19: Faith: When he got to Krasnoyarsk, he met an old Lithuanian man that said that there was a parish that was looking for a priest because theirs died the week before. The visited the people of the parish and Father Walter soon old them that he was a priest. They were overjoyed and told him everything that had to be done in the Church. The Christians in Krasnoyarsk, he says, are very faithful to God and are not afraid to lose their job to show their faith to God. Chapter 20: Humanity:
Father Walter’s stay didn’t last very long in Krasnoyarsk. The secret police showed up at 1 A. M. one morning and told him he has 48 hours to leave. He was told that this was his last chance. He was now moving to Abakan in southern Siberia. When he arrived there he worked at a city garage and roomed with an ex secretary of the City Council with his wife. He lived with him for 2 years and made many friends. He began to council and gave advice, heard confessions, gave baptisms, and anointed the sick. He prays for all the people that he had met on his journeys for their eternal salvation and happiness with God.