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September 24, 2022
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Kyiv. Little Romek celebrated his sixth birthday yesterday. When I was visiting the brothers in Chortkiv two days ago, he was sitting with his dad in our priory’s parish office, which also functions as a guest room. They were looking at something on his computer. We peeked in for a moment, and he immediately ran to us, embraced Father Svorad, and announced to everyone: “I will have a birthday in two days!” He became a little embarrassed when I said that if that’s the case, we’ll have to find some kind of a gift for him. His dad immediately responded that the greatest gift for them was being able to take shelter with us.

Kyiv: The joy of a soon to be six-year-old

Kyiv: This is an update from Jarosław Krawiec, OP, the Vicar Provincial who lives in Kyiv that was sent April 8. While the situation is depressing, the faith of the Dominicans and others who have done so much to sustain the faith of the people is amazing.

If you would like to help the Dominican friars serving in Kyiv and in other places in Ukraine, there is a website that is facilitating this. Go to https://helpukraine.dominikanie.pl/.

Kyiv
Image by Architect and artist from Pixabay

Dear sisters, dear brothers,

Little Romek celebrated his sixth birthday yesterday. When I was visiting the brothers in Chortkiv two days ago, he was sitting with his dad in our priory’s parish office, which also functions as a guest room. They were looking at something on his computer. We peeked in for a moment, and he immediately ran to us, embraced Father Svorad, and announced to everyone: “I will have a birthday in two days!” He became a little embarrassed when I said that if that’s the case, we’ll have to find some kind of a gift for him. His dad immediately responded that the greatest gift for them was being able to take shelter with us.

They had arrived from Kyiv with their whole family at the beginning of the war and were very graciously received by Father Svorad and Father Julian. The brothers are already used to the fact that their small house is a little louder and much more joyful. Romek’s mom is a terrific cook. And that’s the best way to Dominican hearts. On the way back from the church, which is about a kilometer from the priory, I stopped by a toy store. I hoped that Romek would like a Lego fire engine.

Chortkiv is very important for the Dominicans. Our church is considered one of the most beautiful Catholic buildings in Ukraine. It is also a shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary. Here, during the Second World War, the Soviets murdered our brothers. We all hope that the beatification procedures that began years ago will some day raise them to the altar.

assumption cathedral in ukraine
Photo by Denys Olieinykov on Pexels.com

The state authorities gave back to the Order the priory building that is adjacent to the church. Unfortunately, many church buildings in Ukraine, and particularly priories, have not been returned to their original owners. Somehow we managed to get ours. For some time already, we’ve been planning for the priory to serve, after renovations, not only as a home for the brothers but also as a help center, a little like the house of Saint Martin in Fastiv. In the present situation in Ukraine, finalizing these plans seem not only appropriate but urgent.

Like almost all cities in western Ukraine, Chortkiv received many refugees. One can clearly see that the tiny streets of this charming little town are filled with families and mothers with children. At the city council building, tents are set up with humanitarian aid. Help is also offered at the cathedral of the Eastern Rite Catholics. It’s not the only church in Ukraine where I saw, alongside the liturgical space and an area for people coming to pray, boxes of food, cleaning supplies, and mounds of baby diapers.

I thought of the words of Christ: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Many churches now contain both the Bread of Angels, the Holy Eucharist, and the bread from human guardian angels around the world who did not forget their brothers and sisters exiled from their homes by war. Father Svorad, who is from Slovakia, told me that he often meets refugees at prayer in our church. Some people ask for conversation or prayer; some light a candle in front of Our Lady; some ask for confession.

The vast majority are not Catholics and often had nothing to do with the Church previously, either Eastern or Western. Years ago, when I was a pastor in Chortkiv, I placed in the church a figure of Saint Joseph, the protector of emigrants. I wanted the people of this city to pray through his intercession for their loved ones who emigrated from Ukraine. Now our Saint Joseph must be very busy. He knows what it means to be on the way and escape from the anger of Herod. Saint Joseph, careful protector of Jesus and Mary, patron saint of emigrants and refugees, pray for us!

I spent the next two days in Lviv. When I reached the priory in the biggest and also most beautiful city in western Ukraine, Father Thomas, dressed in white habit and black cappa, was just leaving for an ecumenical prayer for the intentions of the victims of war. I joined him. Panikhida, a memorial service for the dead in Eastern Churches, was celebrated in the city center at the monument for the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

Representatives of all faiths in the city were present, including the bishops of both Catholic rites, as well as the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Dymytriy. In the face of the tragedy of thousands of Ukrainians murdered in recent weeks, which became symbolized by the town of Bucha, I see in a much more profound way the need for common prayer and for calling with one voice to God, begging for mercy.

At the end, the participants lit blue and yellow candles. They were left on the sidewalk, arranged in the shape of the Ukrainian coat of arms. This prayer was also attended by many refugees, whose number in the city is very high. It was the first ecumenical celebration like this in Lviv since the beginning of the war.

The time of war is a difficult time for our priories, parishes, and ministries. So many people left their houses, and a significant part of them went abroad. Will they come back, and when? Time will tell. We can already feel the emptiness because a large part of these people were actively involved in the lives of our parishes and communities.

On Wednesday afternoon, I went for a walk. I was told that a military parish of Eastern Rite will have a funeral service for three soldiers. I decided to join the prayers, led by a bishop. I didn’t know these soldiers who died on the front lines, but when I participated in their funeral, I felt like they were close to me. I prayed with gratitude for their service.

They paid the highest price for me also, that I can be safe in Kyiv. The oldest of them was 49 years old, and the other two were just young boys. Looking at the mother of one of them, pained and in tears, I thought about Mary who stood at the cross of her Son. The stations of the cross of Ukraine, in many places of the country, ended with “The Laying in the Tomb.”

The church was filled with people. Among them were many soldiers, who carried the coffins of their brothers. Next to me in the long line toward the narrow entrance of the church patiently stood the president of the Ukrainian Parliament. Before the war, we had met briefly in Kyiv. After the war began, I wrote him a short message, assuring him of our prayers. He wrote back, “Father, let us pray for Ukraine.” Now, we spoke politely for a few minutes. The most important Ukrainian politicians who run the country have passed a very difficult exam in faithfulness to their homeland.

On my journey, I managed to visit Dominican Sisters in Chortkiv and Zhovkva. Since the beginning of the war, they have been very involved in helping the needy and organizing humanitarian transports. I didn’t inform the sisters in advance about my visit to Chortkiv. Whenever I go to them, they are extremely hospitable, which expresses itself, among other ways, by a wonderfully supplied table.

During the time of war, I didn’t want to create additional trouble, so I decided to knock on their door without any previous notice. The door was opened by Sister Eugene, the superior of the community. The other two sisters had gone to deliver supplies to Yasnyshche, which is 125 km from Chortkiv. It’s an important place because it’s the birthplace of the foundress of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters, Roza Kolumba Bialecka.

Yesterday I arrived in Zhovkva. I celebrated Mass in the community chapel, which has icons of Dominican saints on the walls. How good it is to pray in such company: holy icons and wonderful, courageous sisters. After that, we had breakfast, and the sisters told me about their ministry. A lot happens in Zhovkva because it is located close to the Polish border.

In the first weeks of war, the sisters enormously helped thousands of refugees who were waiting every day at the border crossings. Now in cooperation with local volunteers, they provide humanitarian help that is so needed in Ukraine. I continued my trip with Liana, an unusual volunteer from Zhovkva. She is a historian and works at the museum in Lviv. I learned a lot from her about helping and about life during war. She was on her way to receive a delivery of medical supplies from the USA that will be used to save the lives of our soldiers on the front lines.

Dear Readers of my letters, I crossed the border yesterday and am presently in Poland. I will return to Kyiv in two weeks. If you live in Warsaw or nearby, I would like to invite you to the retreat I will preach in the church of Saint Hyacinth on Freta Street, beginning on Palm Sunday and lasting until Wednesday of Holy Week.

Since my letters have always been the sharing of what I personally saw, heard, or experienced in the places touched by war, I will take a break from writing. I would love if letters of the story of war will not be necessary in the near future. Thank you for your solidarity with Ukraine, for help, for money, and above all, for your prayer and Lenten sacrifices in the intention of peace.

With warm greetings and request for prayer,

Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Lviv — Zhovkva — Warsaw, April 8, 8:45 am

For updates on the situation in Ukraine you can check out this section of the friar. Also, 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/.

One benefit of helping here is that it is not only cash donations that are sought, but also items that are helpful for people in need. You can collect items and send them to the Dominicans in Poland who will bring them to the priories where they can be used. You can also learn more about the presence of Dominican friars, sisters, nuns and laity, as well as things that are really needed to help them continue to serve the people suffering so much. These updates come from Kyiv. The Dominicans have been in Kyiv for centuries.

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