Msgr. Hartmut Kania

Монсеньор Хартмут Каниа

The activities of Caritas include 
all people in need, regardless of their ethnicity, 
nationality, religion, social status 
and other features

Ten years ago, on the 17th of March 2001, Hartmut Kania, a prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, died at the University Hospital of Berlin. For many people inRussia, the death of Hartmut Kania was a heavy loss; his life was an example of a real Christian.

Hartmut Kania was born on May 26,1942, inEast Prussia. After finishing a secondary school inCottbusin 1960, he entered the theological seminary in Erfurt, the only Catholic seminary in the former GDR. On June 26, 1966, he was ordained. He served in various parishes ofEast Germany, even served as a spiritual care counselor to the mission of Catholic actors and circus performers of the GDR.

In 1978, Rev. Hartmut Kania spent his first holiday in the Soviet Union, and since then he came almost every year to places where Catholics lived. He said once that during such a vacation he had baptized, married, and given communion to much more Catholics than in the GDR during a whole year.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. In 1991, Bishop Huhn, the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Görlitz, at the request of Hartmut Kania sent him to Russia. It was a terrible time of need for many people. Hartmut Kania began his charity in St. Petersburg with organization of food aid; he opened a free kitchen for the poor, distributed clothes to the needy. We, Russian believers, clearly felt then that we are a Catholic, that is, universal Church and the Christian world cares about us.

Hartmut Kania laid the foundation for the charitable organization "Caritas" inSt. Petersburg. He organized humanitarian aid for disadvantaged people, arranged distribution points for clothing and medicines. A monument to Rev. Hartmut Kania is a house that the he built in the St. Petersburg city district “Kolomyagi” and that now houses a Nursing Home for the Elderly, an Information and Counseling Center for Persons with Addiction Disorders and their Relatives, a Social Care Center, a Home Care Service, and a Rehabilitation Center for Children with Severe Physical and Mental Disorders.

Many institutions established by Rev. Hartmut Kania still continue their work: the Maltese Kitchen for the Poor, the Disabled Youth Support Center named after Bishop Anthony Malecki, the Kitchen for the Homeless, and support programs for disadvantaged children. He sought to improve relations with the state social structures and work with them together to solve problems of poor people.

This is not all that Rev. Hartmut Kania managed to achieve in Russia. After his death, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz had to sign seven decrees to refill vacated positions, which Hartmut Kania held alone.

In 1992, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz appointed Hartmut Kania to be а rector of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. However, only in June 1996 Rev. Hartmut Kania served the first mass on the first floor of the building, which was not yet fully returned to the church, after a 60-year pause. In addition to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Hartmut Kania promoted the return of the Visitation temple on Mineralnaya Street to the Roman Catholic Church.

In the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus a social care service and a free pharmacy for the poor (regardless of their religious beliefs) were established; assistance to the African community was provided. Hartmut Kania was very fond of children; he arranged material assistance to orphanages, organized holidays and excursions for the children.

Priest Hartmut Kania felt always very deeply the Holy Mass and the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. On weekdays, he came after his daily work to the evening service, often frustrated after meetings with officials. But before the service he changed, and after the mass he became calm and bright, as if he gained new strength. Thirty years of priesthood did not make the worship and the prayer a routine for him, every time it was like a new encounter with God. His sermons were usually short but rich in content.

His way to use Russian language often caused a smile, but Hartmut Kania always spoke in his sermons about something of a great importance. He taught to build such a system of values in life, in which God comes first, and then all life's difficulties cease to frighten people. In the heavy 90-ies he taught not to lose hope under any circumstances and to keep in mind the perspective of God's plan of Salvation. Few people know that after the Mass and the parish tea-drinking Hartmut Kania usually went upstairs to the empty church and prayed there alone for a long time.

In Germany, Rev. Hartmut Kania had been a parish priest for about twenty years and he loved his ministry, he loved to celebrate Mass, to marry and to baptize children. He liked to talk with parishioners. He had a creative approach to worship services, maintaining of course the essence of the rite. For example, he could change the course of the Easter service so that the elderly parishioners did not have repeatedly to climb the steep stairs leading to the chapel of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Reflecting on the Stations of the Cross, he always connected the suffering of Jesus with the certain events of our daily lives. In the end of this prayer, we read the names of the martyrs of the Russian Catholic Church.

Shortly before his death, he went to the funeral of an old woman whom he even did not know. The cemetery was very far away from the city; it was winter, biting wind was blowing out the candles and incense coals. With a mourning dress on, Hartmut Kania served the whole funeral rite. At that time he already had the rank of prelate and had been a director of "Caritas Russia". He could have asked a vicar priest to go to the funeral instead of him, but he did it himself.

He was not an ascetic, he worked a lot, but he loved to rest. He liked to arrange countryside picnics with his Caritas co-workers, loved to ski and drive a car. He liked to arrange celebrations and invite guests. Christmas and Easter worship services in his parish always ended with a common festive meal for parishioners and guests. He introduced the tradition of a fun carnival before Lent, and he was not afraid of looking ridiculous in clownish attire. Hartmut Kania liked to gather Catholic priests and monks of the city at his table together and truly enjoyed every visitor. He introduced the custom of Sunday tea drinking in the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In those sad days of the nineties, many people had a shortage of holiday feelings.

It seems to me that he enjoyed talking to people. He was respectful to every person; in addition, he had the remarkable quality of empathy. Hartmut Kania was able to notice and thankfully acknowledge all the good things done by his staff, as well as to forgive all their mistakes and failures or not to notice them at all. After the Mass, almost every time many people turned to him, and he talked to everyone if time allowed. He saw the best in people, and people tried to be better with him.

Everyone of us meets people who change their life. For me, this man was Father Hartmut Kania. I think he could see something in people and in the world around us that I’m not allowed to see. Perhaps it was a look of a deeply religious person, a look full of divine grace. Maybe he saw a particle of God in every person and raised the dignity of every man in his own eyes. Hartmut Kania always remains for me an example of devotion to the Church and active love for people.

 Evgeniy Martynovich, 17/03/2011