As news emerges daily of the struggles of the people of Ukraine during the conflict with Russia, religious men and women across the country are doing what they can to help their brothers and sisters.
Catholic Outlook has been fortunate to obtain a series of messages from Fr Jaroslaw Krawiec OP, the Provincial Vicar of the Dominican Order in Ukraine, dated between 26 February to 8 March, to Dominicans across Europe and the world.
Fr Jaroslaw details his day-to-day activities living in the Dominican priory in Kyiv, and reports on fellow Dominicans helping citizens across the country by providing shelter, food, and assisting them to flee the country to neighbouring Poland.
In a note dated 8 March, Fr Jaroslaw writes on visiting citizens who are sheltering in the city’s subway stations. He describes people laying on mattresses on the station platform, people reading, young children playing with one another and cartoons projected onto the walls.
In describing the efforts of his brothers in Fastiv, southwest of Kyiv, Fr Jaroslaw explains that their priory, the House of Saint Martin de Porres, has been a place of “escape and rest”.
“The church in Fastiv and the House of Saint Martin are filling with people’s tears, with longing for loved ones who lost contact, with longing for home and peace.
“Lots of good, however, still happens around us,” he wrote.
One of the little joys that Fr Jaroslaw writes about in his letter is having purchased yellow tulips for the women in the priory for International Women’s Day – normally a national holiday.
Another joy he shares from 4 March is returning to the priory having purchased 250 loaves of fresh bread. “Driving with such cargo is a real pleasure. During the war, bread – normal, simple bread without any extra ingredients – smells so wonderful,” he writes.
Fr Jaroslaw also explains how everyday activities such as going to the hospital, have extra levels of threat and concern.
In a letter from 6 March, he describes how the priory’s cook had to go to the hospital because she had a fall. He tried calling an ambulance, but due to the war, they are not dispatched for such injuries. In order to get her to the hospital, which was after the city-wide curfew, he donned his Dominican habit and approached a checkpoint to try and get permission to drive to the hospital.
“Despite the fact that most lights are off in the evening, patients are still in the hospital,” he writes. “Not all of them are victims of war. The emergency room crew reminded me that people still get sick with normal diseases. it made me think that in the present situation, that’s one of the worst things that could happen to someone.
“In Kyiv, the Dominican habit usually causes curiosity and surprise; in wartime, frequent suspicion. A short explanation usually suffices,” he writes.
“The Eastern Churches also have monks and monasteries, so we are usually treated with a certain sympathy.
“At the end of my short conversation, the officers asked for a blessing.”
The messages from Fr Jaroslaw were provided by Fr Andrew Fornal OP, parish priest of St Joseph’s Parish, Kingswood. Fr Andrew told Catholic Outlook that he was in Poland when the war broke out.
“Everybody was shocked and couldn’t believe that in the 21st Century Europe, so torn by wars in the last century, another war is waged,” he said.
“There are 22 brothers working in Ukraine in several houses and there are several Dominican Congregation of Sisters working as well.”
When asked what members of the faithful across the Diocese of Parramatta and around the world can do to assist the situation in Ukraine, Fr Andrew requested prayers and material support.
“Some of the parishioners of St Joseph’s have responded to the plea of our General Master [Fr Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP] with monetary donations, and many more are praying the Litany to the Dominican Saints for peace.
“Pope Francis leads us in the response to this war. The Church and each of her members are invited to do all we can to prevent and end this and all wars.
“His beautiful prayer for peace from this week’s Wednesday Audience is what we all can pray in union with him.”
In his message from early on in the conflict, Fr Jaroslaw explains how grateful he is for the prayers and words of support and solidarity from around the world.
“We are very grateful that you are with us and help Ukraine in so many ways.
“You are offering good for people who found themselves in war.
“We ask for the protection of the Protectress of our Order, Saint Hyacinth, and Saint Michael the Archangel who is the patron of the Dominican Vicariate of Ukraine.”
On 25 March, Catholics around the world are being encouraged to join their prayers with those of Pope Francis when he consecrates Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We encourage you to pray in whatever way you can. Consider praying the Litany to the Dominican Saints for peace or the Australian Bishops’ prayer for peace in Ukraine.
If you wish to provide monetary support to the Dominicans in Ukraine, this document has information on where to send money, otherwise, you can support Caritas Australia’s Emergency Ukraine Appeal by visiting caritas.org.au/ukriane.