Friday, February 7, 2014

Sochi Tweets Again

Are you planning on watching the Olympics? It's hard not see at least some of it. I'm not a diehard sports fan, but I do enjoy the human interest stories that inevitably accompany an event that shapes the lives of so many athletes. The blood, the sweat, the tears, the upsets, the pageantry - I eat all that stuff up.

One of the first Sochi stories to come out this week is the unbelievable state of the lodgings that many journalist found upon their arrival. You may have read some of the tweets, or seen articles in which they are compiled, like this one.  The amount of money spent on these games is outrageous, upward of $50 billion (yes, that is a 'b'), and [new construction] doorknobs are falling off? Man hole covers are missing? Water is either not running, or mysteriously brown and "very dangerous"?

My first reaction was to laugh. Truly, the reality is ridiculous, and therefore, comedic. And then I felt a little bit of shame. Shame on myself for laughing.  Shame because I know the conditions in which many of the locals in this posh resort town live daily. You probably won't, though, if you just watch the sporting events, because part of the 50 billion was used to build high walls and either whitewash or destroy that which was unsightly (such as communal outhouses that were the only toilet facilities available to some residents).

And Sochi residents don't have a monopoly on squalor. I was able to spend a month in Russia in 2006, mostly in the far east city of Vladivostok (and the surrounding villages), but also a couple of days in Moscow. I was shocked. A man hole that was covered was the anomaly. Water was polluted and it sure wasn't hot (the city controlled the water temp, and after May hot water was considered unnecessary, despite the outdoor temperature). Rubble, broken glass, and general disrepair was everywhere, especially the further you traveled from the wealthy sections of Moscow. Many impoverished people, including the elderly in hospices, relied exclusively on outhouses, or a chair with a hole cut out placed over a bucket.

The only "bathroom" at a rural Russian nursing home.
Many Russians consider it the status quo to live in conditions we would find deplorable. There is money in post-Soviet Russia to be sure, but it is largely and scandalously held by a small minority of citizens known as Russian Oligarchs. While they may not be "oligarchs" in the strictly political sense, they do effect politics and many aspects of Russian culture by engaging in corruption and bribery to maintain and expand their financial empires. This reality encourages the trickling down of bribery and corruption into all levels of the population, thus placing a stranglehold on the growth and hope of Russia. It creates a society in which the weakest members- children, the elderly, the disabled - are crushed. Not only that, it makes it difficult to help. Where do donations really go?

This is a complex problem, and ultimately a spiritual one, so you may be asking...  What's the point of this post? To squash your funnies and ruin the Olympics? No and no.  I want to highlight an organization that does really great work in Russia, and provides concrete ways to help - The Mary Mother of God Mission Society. The organization, which goes by the same name as the Catholic parish in Vladivostok, Russia, was founded by two American priests in the early 90's. The priests and the Society work to regather the Catholic population (present largely as a result of forced banishment of Poles in the 18th century) that was scattered during the 70 years of communism. They also work to help the community - regardless of denomination, via their various outreaches. I originally wanted to do a quick takes post, so I'm going to end this with seven ways to help. Here we go:


1. Help Young Orphans get the love and attention they need by supporting the Grandma Mentoring Program
2. Support the Mission's Gift Shop. I especially love the hand made Baptismal garments ($25 each!!!), and the Rosary cases made from old priestly vestments (gorgeous!).
3. Make a Donation to the Women's Support Center (which provides an alternative to abortion and basic ob/gyn medical services).
4. Take Part in Project Guardian Angel (in which you "adopt" a child who escaped abortion, yet is in need of financial support).
5. Host a Mission Speaker at Your Parish.
6.  Have a Mass said. The free will offering supports the everyday needs of the mission.
7. Go to Russia and Volunteer!


  1. Great post, Mary! Thanks for sharing this info plus the great ways to help links!

  2. Wow, what a great post. Thank you for the practical tips on how to help!

    1. THanks, Catie! I was just thinking about you. Thanks for your comment yesterday; you're right, the days are long but the years are short. I needed to be reminded : )

  3. Great post, Mary! Thanks for reminding me how to help a great organization that I forget about so often!!

  4. Totally not trying to diminish these facts ... but this is the reality in a lot of places where "first world" visitors go. Basically any high end resort in Jamaica, Mexico, South Africa (to name just a few!) will have walls, tall flowering bushes, and be kind of enclosed. So, you get to enjoy the high life ... so long as you do not look beyond the bushes and walls. Beyond the walls there is abject poverty and conditions which we can't even fathom. Russia, frankly, is one of the "better" areas ... when it comes to some places I have seen. Russia is also known for putting banners over crumbling buildings, the banners depict a new facade for the building and blend so well that if you don't look closely, you don't realize it's a banner covering devastation. Heck, last time I was in Poland, they did this as well in one town, which the president was supposed to come through.


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