A female Catholic ‘parish priest’ in Russia has opened up about her work, saying “I really love what I do”.
– From a childhood without religion in Kazakhstan to fervent Catholic in Russia
Natalia Kilina (to the right of the bishop in the photo) told SIR August 12 about her unusual experience at the head of the Catholic parish in Kamyshin, a town of 117,000 inhabitants not far from Volgograd, in southern European Russia.
After growing up without religion in post-Soviet-era Kazakhstan, where she was born and raised, Kilina was baptised and confirmed in the Catholic faith as a young adult, when she threw herself into all those facets of parish life available to her.
In 1999 she moved to Russia, where in Kamyshin she organised catechetical classes for children alongside parish priest Father Joseph Strapko.
Strapko returned to his native Slovakia in 2005, and although Kamyshin Catholics continued to have their Sunday Eucharist – with a visiting priest coming every week to say Mass for them – there was still something missing in the parish.
– The public face of the local Catholic Church
Bishop Clemens Pickel of the Saratov diocese in which Kamyshin is located noticed the lack too in the local church, and as Kilina explained to SIR the bishop “asked me to live temporarily in the parish house until there was a new parish priest. And I gladly accepted”.
“Since I worked as an accountant… I gradually began to take care of the administration of the parish… For ten years I did it as a volunteer; I prepared the documents that Father Joseph Matis, when he came on Sundays from Volgograd, signed. In 2015, to simplify the situation, I was appointed administrator of the parish”, the laywoman explained.
Although Kilina was careful to point out that “all the important matters I agree with Father Matis”, she still has much of the responsibility for the administration of the Kamyshin parish, including for paying the bills and for keeping accounting records.
That’s on top of the other duties Kilina has, which include representing the Church in public events in Kamyshin, taking care of the maintenance of the parish and its surrounds, visiting the sick and elderly, coordinating parish activities through a WhatsApp group, preparing for Saturday and Sunday Mass and even leading a Liturgy of the Word service every Wednesday.
– “For parishioners it has become very normal”
“For parishioners it has become very normal”, Kilina told SIR about her service in charge of the Kamyshin parish.
“Everyone knows that they can look for me at any time if they need me. And they understand very well that in the diocese not all parishes have priests.
“Even people who come to church for the first time or seek help, for example for a funeral, understand this. Sometimes there are people for whom my state of life is not completely clear, why I am not married and have no children and why I do all this. But it is curiosity linked to the discovery that you can live differently”, Kilina explained.
The administrator of the Kamyshin parish said that there have been “no negative reactions” from other area Christian Churches and their leaders, and that similiar situations to hers exist in other dioceses in Russia, where “there are often more women than men in the parishes”.
“Women play a very significant role in the modern world. This also applies to the Church”, Kilina emphasised.
But even given the “multifaceted service – not a job” she carries out in her parish – and the desire of some of her parishioners that she be ordained a priest – the laywoman is happy for the moment knowing her talents are being put to good use as a lay parish administrator.
“It seems to me that there are many other opportunities for women in the Church, besides the priesthood, to make the most of their abilities and talents”, Kilina told SIR, admitting that even if that sentiment might not seem “in step with the times… that is my conviction at this stage of life”.
“If we want to have something to do with the priesthood, our task is as women, mothers, to give birth and raise a future priest; as sisters or friends, to support him in this vocation, to pray for him, to collaborate with him, to help him in his ministry, and to help him, as far as possible, to keep his vocation on the path of life. And this is not a secondary role, but a very important one for a woman”, Kilina highlighted.