Nothing in his background would have suggested that David would one day be testing his vocation to the Catholic priesthood. His father was not a Christian, his mother was baptised but not believing. Yet today this 29-year-old Azerbaijani is a seminarian in Saint Petersburg.

There are only around 400 Catholics living in Azerbaijan today, most of them foreigners. Only a fraction of the mare native to this Muslim majority country. “And I am one of them”, says David proudly. Even as a child he already knew the Our Father, for his grandmother taught it him when he was still little. “She was a woman of deep faith”, he recalls. She was the only one who spoke to him about God. At that time what he loved most was to read his Child’s Bible. It wasn’t until many years later that he first visited a Catholic church, the first one to be built in Baku, over a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. When he was baptised as a Catholic in 2003 his parents were horrified. “They reacted very negatively, indeed outright aggressively”, he says. His friends likewise responded coolly to his decision. To this day his path is not being made easy for him.

Even before he was baptised, he was interested in the life of monks and priests. He devoured books on the subject and was always pestering the Salesian Fathers in the local parish about it. But he still could not really discover how and why someone has a vocation. Today he knows the truth: “There is no single cut-and-dried answer to it. One day you simply realise that God is calling you.”

He himself experienced the call of God during a journey to Belgium. Sitting in a bus, he suddenly caught sight of a giant statue of Our Lady with the Christ Child in her arms. It somehow moved him and, without quite knowing what he was doing, he jumped off the bus at the next stop, not even knowing where he was. He walked in the direction of the statue and arrived at the courtyard of a large, old building. He knocked on every door, but they were all locked. There was only one doorway open, so he entered it. It led to an old chapel. In front of the Tabernacle the perpetual light of the sanctuary lamp was burning. David knelt down and prayed as he had never prayed before, the tears streaming down his face. Leaving the chapel at last, after praying for a long time, he met an old man dressed in monastic garb. He told him everything he had just experienced. “It was in this 700-year-old monastery that I knew that God had called me to leave everything and consecrate my entire life to Him.”

Today he is studying in the Catholic seminary in Saint Petersburg, preparing for ordination to the priesthood. In 1918 this seminary was seized by the communists; many priests were arrested, while others escaped abroad. It was not until 1995 that the Catholic seminary in Saint Petersburg was finally able to open again.

Like David, many others have experienced the call of God: like Igor, Denis, Ivan, Orentas and Daniil. Each has his own story to tell. Each of them comes from a different part of the former Soviet Union; they have been brought together by the knowledge that they have all been called to the priesthood. It is not something that anyone can explain. But it can be experienced, here in the seminary of “Mary, Queen of the Apostles” in Saint Petersburg.

Eva-Maria Kolmann

This article can be found in Mirror 0312.