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Oblate Highlights: Fr. Anton Litvinov, OMI

 Abril Villarreal-Medina
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antonFather Anton Litvinov, O.M.I. is a new Oblate priest.  And he is already an important figure in the history of the Catholic Church.

Father Litvinov was ordained on May 7, 2016.  He is believed to be the first person born in Turkmenistan to ever be ordained a Catholic priest.

“I rejoice with you and all the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate for the grace of your ordination,” wrote Fr. Louis Lougen, O.M.I. the Oblate Superior General in a congratulatory letter to Fr. Litvinov.  “You are the first, and we hope that many young men from your country will follow your example and become great missionaries for the Church.”

Father Litvinov was born in the city of Turkmenbashy (known then as Krasnovodsk because the country was part of the Soviet Union).  At the time there was no Catholic presence in the entire country, thanks to the atheist propaganda of the Communists.

In 1997 two Oblates were allowed to enter Turkmenistan as representatives of the Holy See.  They were the first Catholic priests ministering there in 80 years.  They converted an apartment into the Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel in the capital of Ashgabat.  The priests would visit neighboring cities to introduce the Catholic faith.  It was during one of these visits that the young Anton began to feel a calling to Catholicism.

“We could not proclaim the Gospel loudly, so we whispered,” said Fr. Andrzej Madej, O.M.I., mission superior.

By their example, the two “whispering Oblates” had a significant impact on Anton and his faith development.  Father Madej has remained in the country for 19 years, helping the mission grow from less than 20 participants (mostly diplomats) to about 300 members today (mostly natives of Turkmenistan).  Father Radoslaw Zmitrowiz, O.M.I. worked in Turkmenistan for three years before transferring to Ukraine.  He is now the auxiliary bishop of the Kamenentz-Podolsk Diocese in Ukraine.

After expressing an interest in pursuing a calling to the priesthood, Anton was allowed to study in Europe.  For the past three years he studied at the main theological seminary in Kiev, Ukraine.

Father Litvinov’s ordination was held at the Oblates’ St. Nicholas Church in Kiev.  It was a homecoming for him and his ‘brother Oblates” from Turkmenistan.  The presider at the ordination was Bp. Zmitrowicz, and standing by his side was Fr. Madej.  Father Litvinov’s mother came from Turkmenistan, and relatives and friends arrived from several other countries.

“I am filled with gratitude to God for Fr. Litvinov’s vocation which is a wonderful fruit of the Holy Sprit working through the Oblates in Turkmenistan,” said Fr. Lougen.  “I give thanks to God that he said ‘Yes!’ to his call and has persevered in following Jesus.”

Oblates in Turkmenistan

There are currently three Oblates ministering in Turkmenistan.  They are the only Catholic priests in the country.

Turkmenistan is a country of about five million people that borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan.  A century ago Bolshevik revolutionaries expelled the country’s small Catholic community and there was no Catholic presence for generations.

Today the Oblates celebrate Mass attended by a few dozen people.  The participants are lucky, because the next closest Mass is celebrated more than 1,000 miles away in another country.  The Oblates celebrate Mass in English and Russian.  Recitation of the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration are also held through the week.  Twice a week the Oblates hold meetings for persons interested in learning more about the Catholic faith.

Father Madej said he sees himself as a farmer planting the seeds of faith in the Turkmenistan desert.  Now the work of the Oblate farmers is beginning to bear fruit.

“This is a decisive moment in the history of the Church in this county,” said Fr. Madej.  “We are filled with great joy and hope.”