The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops take up a special collection every year on Ash Wednesday through its Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. This year the USCCB is highlighting the Catholic community of the former Soviet-controlled country of Kyrgyzstan as its beneficiary.

The collection will take place in most parishes on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17. Those unable to attend Mass in person are encouraged to contact their local parish for giving options, including online donations.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, countries in Central and Eastern Europe have been laboring to rebuild religious life as well as governments, social welfare activities and economies. Catholics of that region endured decades of religious persecution under Soviet rule, and are in urgent need of help.

Each year the Collection for Central and Eastern Europe helps to support seminaries, youth ministry, social service programs and pastoral centers, as well as church construction and renovation in 28 nations once under communist control.

Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished nation compared to Switzerland for its beauty, was used as a Soviet gulag. Brutal communist dictator Joseph Stalin inadvertently revived the Catholic Church there when he used it as a prison for ethnic Poles and Germans who were deported from western Russia for refusing to abandon their faith.

In 2020, the Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe awarded $6.1 million in funding for 323 projects in 25 countries.