08/13/2013, 00.00
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Solovki: Catholic and Orthodox students together in the gulag archipelago

by Nina Achmatova
Sponsored by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Moscow Municipality, the volunteer project will see young people work to improve the conditions of the Solovki Monastery, following the monastic rule of 'Ora et labora'.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - A group of Catholic and Orthodox students from various nations is taking part in a summer work camp on the Solovki Islands, one of the most symbolic sites in Russia, a symbol of spirituality, but also of the cruel Soviet gulag system.

The initiative is sponsored by the Moscow Department for Interregional Cooperation and Relations with Religious Organisations, together with the Youth Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, in cooperation with the 'St Andrew the First Called'  Fund.

Participants will stay until mid-August at a camping site, living in tents in accordance with the Benedictine rule 'Ora et Labora' (Pray and Work), organisers said.

Some will do small jobs to improve the Solovki Monastery Museum, like stacking firewood for the winter. Others will work at the monastery's publishing house or take part in archaeological digs.

Guided tours to local sites of historical and artistic interest are planned, Pavel Fedosov, a contributor to the 'St Andrew the First Called' Fund, told blagoves-info.ru, a Russian religious website.

It is the first initiative of volunteering to mark the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of ancient Russia, which took place in solemn form in late July between Moscow, Kiev and Minsk, said Hieromonk Dimitri (Pershin), from the Commission of the Diocesan Missionary Council in Moscow.

The priest said he hoped the young people, who left on 28 July, will "find an inner beauty," as they work to restore the outer beauty of the spiritual and cultural legacy of the infamous White Sea archipelago.

As the monk noted, Catholic youth from Ukraine, Italy and Poland are also involved in the project, "young people who wish to learn more about Orthodox traditions, the history of the monastery and that of the Solovki prison where people of many nationalities and denominations were locked up, including a Latvian Catholic bishop, Mgr Boleslaw Sloska".

Meanwhile, the city of Moscow hopes that in the future the project will find new donors, and enable more young people to share such an experience.

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