Letter From Ukraine, September 14, 2022
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
It has been 200 days since the beginning of the war. Although the Ukrainian army’s most recent military achievements and the lifting of Russian occupation in the territories of the Kharkiv Oblast and the south of the country brought us joy, hope, and expectation, we are all aware that the road to full victory remains long. Today, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, by the initiative of the Council of the European Episcopal Conferences, we are celebrating in Ukraine the Day of Prayer for Peace. It is celebrated under the motto: “Kneeling before the Eucharist crying for peace.” I’m very grateful to Archbishop Gintarasa for this idea. He visited Ukraine in July, and since he is Lithuanian, I’m sure he understands perfectly well how godless and terrible the ideology of “Russian peace” could be.
Prayer is a particularly important form of help for Ukraine. I’m convinced that prayer is what allowed us to survive the most difficult time at the beginning of the war and that it continually brings strength to the Dominicans and lay volunteers daily serving people in need. I’ve heard from many people that they experience, particularly now, God’s care for them. Father Svorad told me that the people of Chortkiv believe it was the intercession of Mary, who is much remembered in this city, that prevented anyone from losing their life during the July rocket attack. The area of the city where the rockets landed was heavily damaged, but the little shrine recently built there in honor of the Protection of Mary (Pokrova) has survived. This shrine was blessed at the beginning of September, both by the Catholic and Orthodox bishops. One can read these signs in a variety of ways, but for many people exhausted by war, they are a confirmation of something expressed by a poem written at the beginning of the Russian aggression: “God has not left Ukraine. / He stays here among us. / Where our cities are in ruins. / Where the flicker of hope has gone out.”
Last week during an annual meeting of the Dominicans working in Ukraine that took place in Kyiv, I had a conversation with our brother Bishop Nicholas from Mukachevo. It is thanks to his inspiration that last year the Episcopal Conference of Ukraine announced the Year of the Holy Cross, which is just ending. “This time,” said Bishop Nicholas, “allowed us to see how Divine Providence cares for us. I remember well how people were telling me that if not for the sacrament of confession, the sacrament of Eucharist, the Church, and common prayer, they don’t know if they could have survived the terror that entered their lives with the beginning of the war.”
In the sanctuary of the Dominican church in Fastiv named the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, two persons are painted next to the icon of the cross. The first one is Saint Martin de Porres. The second is Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These saints are helping us understand today what the Exaltation of the Holy Cross can be in spiritual life. Saint Mother Teresa was without any doubt one of the most beautiful persons of modernity. Her greatness expressed itself through humility, faith, self-lowering, and service of her neighbor. She wrote: “A certain man in India was asked once: ‘What does it mean to be Christian?’ His answer was very simple: ‘To be Christian means to give.’ God loved this world so much that he gave his Son — that was the first great offering. But it wasn’t enough for him. He made himself hungry and naked so that we too are capable of offering something to him.”
A couple days ago the Dominican brothers in Poland published a short summary of the continuous help offered to Ukraine for over six months. I was very moved when I read it because behind the list of names of organizations and individuals, I saw faces of specific, good people and I remembered our long evening phone calls when they could hear the sounds of fighting Kyiv outside my window. I remember countless text messages: “Father, how are you doing? Are you alive? What can I do?” I read this report with profound gratitude too, and I am convinced that, as the words of Saint Mother Teresa remind us, during that time, apart from what was given, everyone on both sides of the border received much more. I’m also convinced that, thanks to the people of Ukraine, Poles as well as people from other countries around the world, could become a little better, more loving, more compassionate, and more understanding. The refugees from Kyiv, Bucha, Kharkiv, and many many other Ukrainian towns and villages helped us in this. They offered us this chance.
In March and February, we were all worried about what would happen when we run out of electricity and natural gas. How would we heat our houses and priories? Now we’re starting to wonder again what will happen when the winter frost comes. Will we have enough heat, and will the Russians, as they showed last Saturday, continue the destruction of power plants and electric lines? While I ask these questions, I understand Father Misha from Fastiv who does everything in his power (and maybe even a little more!) to prepare in the buildings of the House of Saint Martin as many places as possible before winter for refugees and those deprived of their own shelter.
We have begun another academic year in our Institute of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Kyiv. I remember a couple months ago we were wondering whether any new students would enroll this year. We are at war, after all. Ultimately, many more candidates applied than in previous years. Among them are both Catholics and Orthodox, and even others simply looking for truth. The same as it’s been since the establishment of the institute, which was just over 30 years ago. Father Petro, who conducted the initial interviews with the students, said that most of them want to study because they want to find the key to explain what is happening around them. On Friday when I saw our lecture hall filled with students, I remember words from the letter of Father Timothy Radcliffe: “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.” The opening lecture was delivered by Father Wojciech Giertych who is the Theologian of the Papal Household and the friend and supporter of the Kyiv Institute over many years. He spoke on the Catholic understanding of freedom, emphasizing that freedom according to the teachings of Saint Thomas is shaped by the values; and it is a freedom to, not freedom from. It was an important reflection during the time of war and should inspire creative thinking about the future.
We also had a guest in Kyiv, Father Christipher Fadok, the provincial of the Western Province of the Holy Name of Jesus from the United States. On Saturday, we visited Fastiv. When Father Misha asked him to leave a signature on the wall in one of the classrooms of the Center of Saint Martin de Porres, Father Christopher wrote simply “USA” and told us that when he was a boy, he received from his father a t-shirt that read USA — “Ukrainian Secret Agent”. It was not a random gift. Father Christopher’s ancestors had come to America from Ukraine. Like in many beautiful stories, so in this one too, love united his great-grandparents after crossing the Atlantic, and a true sympathy for Ukraine had remained in the next generations of the Fadoks. I accompanied Father Christopher with tremendous joy on his first visit to Ukraine. I am very happy that he could see Lviv and Kyiv. I saw his emotion during the meeting with the superior of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, about whom he said, “My major archbishop” because the Fadoks were Greek Catholics. Later Father Christopher traveled to Fastiv with Father Wojciech Giertych, the Papal Theologian, and Father Jacek Buda from the USA, to whom I owe endless gratitude for translating my letters into English, as well as with Anna and Denys, volunteers from the House of Saint Martin. When Father Chritopher visited the cities and villages destroyed by Russian soldiers and saw the signs of the recent atrocities, and when he listened to Father Misha telling him what else must be done for the victims of the war, I know that he didn’t just look with his eyes or listen just with his ears, but above all he was absorbing all of this with his heart. How could it be any other way, since in his chest beats the heart of the Ukrainian Secret Agent?
Lastly, I would like to mention my own provincial, Father Lukasz and his socius Father Szymon. On the way back from Kyiv to Warsaw, they set a new record. They had to wait on the border for 11 hours and 20 minutes. Sometimes we just have the wrong kind of luck.
With gratitude, greetings, and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,Kyiv,
September 14, 5:15pm
Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality
708 North Harvey Avenue
Oak Park, IL 60302
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