Kyiv: Letter from Timothy Radcliffe, OP, to the people in Ukraine: March 22, 2022
If you would like to help the Dominican friars serving in Ukraine, there is a website that is facilitating this. Go to https://helpukraine.dominikanie.pl/.
To Kyiv and Elsewhere
My dear brothers and sisters in St Dominic,
Our Brother Jarosław Krawiec OP, Vicar Provincial of Ukraine, asked me to write a letter to you all. I do so with a profound awareness of the inadequacy of anything that I can say. You are faced with a brutal and senseless violence that exceeds anything that I have ever experienced or can even imagine, and so forgive the poverty of my words.
‘I shall be with you until the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28.36)
Millions have fled Ukraine and found refuge in neighbouring countries, especially Poland which has inspired the world by its generous welcome. Thanks be to God that they have found safety and security away from the conflict. But we also thank God that you have remained, Ukrainian and Polish brothers and sisters, religious and laity, when this has been possible. All around the world, people are reading the letters of Brother Jaroslaw, and we were all moved when he wrote, “We decided to stay together with the people in Ukraine. We only left Kharkiv when the city, including the area around our house, started to be bombed”.
Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age
The Risen Lord said to his disciples, ‘Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age’ (Matthew 28.20). Your abiding presence is a sign of the Lord who remains in Ukraine even now and for ever. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is just to be with people in their hour of need. The Son of Man said, ‘I was sick and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25.36) Rowan Williams, the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury said: ‘“I’m not going away” is one of the most important things we can ever hear.’ How I wish that I was with you now. When you want me to come back, I shall do so as soon as is possible!
Such Happy Memories
I have such happy memories of my visits to Ukraine when I was Master of the Order. I was struck by the beauty of Kyiv where you do so much good work teaching in the Aquinas institute, preaching and publishing. I recall the busy town of Fastiv, the copper-roofed church and our very modest priory composed of builders huts which apparently are still in use today and a testimony to the concern of the brethren for the mission rather than their own comfort! Then there was quiet Chortkiv with its memories of Dominicans martyred by the NKVD and more altar servers in the church than I could count!
There were so many memorable visits – for example, to the bishop’s palace in historic Zhitomir where, I am sad to hear, missiles are now destroying people’s homes. The Dominican presence has grown greatly since my last visit and I cannot imagine what it is like for those living today in Kharkiv near to the Russian border which has been subject to so many missile attacks. I know that there are Dominicans in Khmelnytskyi and Lviv too – which until the recent missile attacks had looked fairly safe. Everywhere I went in Ukraine I was met with warm hearts and traditional Slav hospitality.
Seeing the Dream Become Real
I remember seeing Fastiv when the church was still being repaired and when the House of St Martin, the orphanage, was still an empty building and a dream in the mind of our amazing Dominican brother, Zygmunt Kozar, whose heart was always open to the elderly and the poor. His dream is now a reality and it is wonderful to see the new role that St Martin’s house is playing as a staging post for refugees, some of whom are orphans on their way to a safer place in Poland thanks to your efforts.
‘Do this in memory of me’
Every day you are joined to your brothers and sisters around world as you celebrate the Eucharist. Faced with the insane violence which is being attempting to destroy your beautiful nation, you remember the Last Supper when all that seemed to lie ahead for Jesus was violence and destruction. His small fragile community was on the verge of collapse and all dreams for the future seemed to be destroyed. In this darkest moment Jesus performed this act of generous hope, giving himself to his friends and to us.
Every Eucharist Proclaims Hope
Every Eucharist proclaims our hope that violence, destruction and death will not have the last word. When his life was about to be taken from him by force, he made himself a gift. It is the Eucharistic hope and generosity which the Dominican Family is living out day by day in Ukraine. When you are living Good Friday, Easter Sunday is drawing near!
This brutal war against defenceless civilians in cities, towns and even small villages of Ukraine is truly shocking. We see missiles and shells deliberately aimed at the homes of ordinary people who posed no threat to anyone. In the face of this the Eucharist embodies our hope that the Lord’s peace will triumph.
‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’ (John 6.12)
The whole Dominican world has been moved by Brother Jaroslaw’s accounts of the kindness and compassion of the whole Dominican Family in this terrible time: caring for refugees, visiting the sick, preparing food, and Sr Anastasia’s record breaking car trip to Fastiv with the oven for baking bread! I think her guardian angel must have been working overtime!
Signs of Hope
Brother Jaroslaw wrote ‘I’m getting to know this new reality and becoming more certain that during the war, what is needed is not only soldiers but also all the people behind the scenes. They deliver food and medications. And when necessary, they evacuate people to safe places.’ The drivers, pharmacists, teachers, nurses and doctors and so many others who just carry on day by day are a sign of hope.
No Good Deed is Wasted
Sometimes one may wonder what good is being achieved. How can these small deeds matter in the face of the massive destructive power of missiles, tanks and aircraft? But the Lord of the harvest will ensure that not one good deed is wasted. As all the fragments were gathered from the feeding of the five thousand, so no act of kindness will be wasted. He will forth fruit that we can never imagine.
The Reminder of Presence
Primo Levi, the Italian chemist, met Lorenzo in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Lorenzo gave him part of his ration of bread every day. He wrote: ‘I believe it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good….something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good but for which it was worth surviving. Thanks to Lorenzo I managed not to forget that I myself was a man. (‘Survival in Auschwitz’ The Tablet 21 January 2006)’ Every act of kindness and compassion is a witness to the possibility of goodness, to our humanity, which evil can never destroy.
‘The Truth will set you free’ (John 8.32)
It is often said that ‘the first causality of war is truth.’ Yet the violence which is being wrought against your beautiful country is the poisoned fruit of lies. We Dominicans, with our motto Veritas, and our love of truth, have a special witness to give today in a world which often does not care for truth. When I visited Baghdad during the suffering of the Iraqi people, I was moved to see the Baghdad Academy of Human Sciences, founded by the brethren in 2012. All over Iraq there are schools run by our Dominican sisters, signs that human beings can only flourish if we seek the truth together. Every school is a sign of our hope for our children and their future.
Continuing to Study and Teach
So it is wonderful that in the middle of this senseless war, Dominicans continue to study and to teach. I was present at the opening of the Institute of Religious Studies of Saint Thomas Aquinas, run by the Dominicans in Kyiv for the past 30 years, and which continues its work until today. Brother Peter continues to give on-line lectures of the Synoptic gospels. Every hour of study or teaching is a proclamation of our hope that the meaningless violence will not have the last word. ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ (John 1.5)
No culture of lies can endure because it destroys the basis of human community. Brother Pawel Krupa OP, appeared in a TikTok clip recently. Someone asks him, ‘Have you got any message to the youth?’ He replies ‘You know. You happen to ask a priest, and even more specifically a priest of the Catholic Church. I have something for both young and old. Seek for the truth and the truth will set you free…”.
Within two or three days, there had been 5 million views. Now, there have been over 10 million views and 1.7 million likes. Very few of the people who liked it even knew that Pawel was quoting Jesus, but those gospel words touched a deep hunger: ‘Seek for the truth and the truth will set you free.’ I also give thanks to God for all teachers and students and for the journalists who risk their lives to share with the world the truth of your suffering.
We also remember your Russian brothers and sisters who have the courage to protest against the lies of the Kremlin, even at the risk of imprisonment. We were so moved at words of the Russian Catholic which were read from the pulpit in which he expresses his shame at what his country is doing. What an expression of courage and of hope!
Embraced by the Prayers and Love of the Dominican Family
So my brothers and sisters, you are embraced in the prayers and love of the Dominican Family all over the world. We give thanks that you are there in this place of madness, a visible witness to the Christ who will be with us until the end of time. We give thanks with you every day in the supreme expression of gratitude, the Eucharist, the sacrament of our hope, that war will be defeated. We give thanks for the deeds of compassion and kindness which are the seeds of the harvest that the Lord will bring.
May your Dominican pursuit of truth be a sign that the culture of lies which is fuelling this violence will not endure. May the Lord grant that can I be with you in the Ukraine as soon as is possible! And forgive my inadequate words.
Your brother in St Dominic
Brother Timothy Radcliffe OP
Blackfriars, Oxford, the United Kingdom
March 21st 2022.
The Friar provides updates from Ukraine as they are received. Timothy Radcliffe was Master of the Dominican Order from 1992-2001. If you would like to help the Dominican friars serving in Ukraine, there is a website that is facilitating this. Go to https://helpukraine.dominikanie.pl/.