Those doing some last-minute shopping at the Christmas market in Wiesbaden, Germany, might happen past a stall near the city's red brick Market Church and the children's railway. Typical Russian souvenirs such as stacking dolls, lacquer boxes and wooden toys, along with icons and religious items, make up the goods on sale there. The stall's manpower, whatever the time of day, will always consist of just one individual --- Sister Magdalena Tichoniuk.
For the fourth year running, the stall has been selling items to raise funds for the Saint Elisabeth Convent, located on the outskirts of Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Many of the goods for sale here, to include the ceramic mugs and ornaments, along with the religious articles, are crafted by residents of the convent. Around 106 sisters and 10 monks currently live there.
The history of the convent is recent. It was founded in 1999 to provide spiritual and social help for the sick and the suffering. The sisters of the convent engage with some of the most vulnerable members of society: orphans, many of whom are mentally disabled, psychiatric patients, those ill with tuberculosis. The convent also runs a farm that provides for the needs of an additional 150 men, some struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, others recently released prisoners. Their work has already enjoyed a measure of success --- so far around 40 men have managed to rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society.
Sister Magdalena was born in Poland but has spent the last 10 years within the convent. With her knowledge of English, Russian and German, she readily engages with visitors to the Christmas market and speaks of the convent's mission. Her brief annual residency in Wiesbaden is supported by the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Elizabeth, located on the city's Neroberg.
As profits generated by sales at this particular stall are used to benefit the works of the convent, a gift obtained here translates to a pleased recipient, a buyer who can feel he's done a bit of good with his purchase, and an incrementally better life for someone in Belarus. In any language, the spirit of the season.
To learn more about the convent, see http://obitel-minsk.by. English pages are available. Visitors to the convent in Belarus are welcome.