File photo of a Caritas Poland volunteer handing out food aid to a Ukrainian refugee in the early days of the war File photo of a Caritas Poland volunteer handing out food aid to a Ukrainian refugee in the early days of the war  (Credit Caritas Polonia)

Church in Poland’s efforts to help over two million Ukrainians

On the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we take a look at the vast humanitarian assistance which the Church in Poland has offered to its war-torn neighbor.

By Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik

Record collections of funds and basic necessities in parishes, thousands of deliveries of supplies to Ukraine, the hosting of refugees in Church buildings, psychological care, hospitality for children in schools and kindergartens.

These are just some of the charitable activities the Polish Catholic Church has carried out during the first year of the war in Ukraine. From the day war broke out, on 24 February 2022, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish Bishops' Conference, expressed his Church’s solidarity with all Ukrainians, asking people to pray for them and announcing a collection of aid in all Polish parishes.

It was a collection unparalleled in the more than thousand-year history of the Church in Poland. The effort will be repeated now, a year after the outbreak of the conflict, by Archbishop Gądecki, who has announced a new collection in all the churches in Poland on Sunday 26 February. A communiqué states that the various contributions have reached around 2 million Ukrainians, mainly through Caritas.

Pope Francis' gratitude to Polish Catholics

During his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis thanked the Polish people for their aid to Ukraine, including those "who remained in Ukraine, devastated by war, bringing support and hope to the inhabitants of that tormented country.”

Welcoming refugees into homes and parishes

“There has not been a parish in Poland that has not helped refugees," says Bishop Krzysztof Zadarko, president of the Polish Episcopate's Council for Migration, Tourism and Pilgrimages, in an interview with Catholic News Agency.

The Church has received and continues to receive refugees in men's and women's monasteries, Caritas centres, centres belonging to movements and communities, seminaries, buildings belonging to dioceses, parishes and also, through parishes, in homes of the faithful.

Ukrainian families also found refuge in bishop's residences, including that of Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski in Krakow and Bishop Andrzej Jeż in Tarnów.

Thousands of trucks and buses in aid of Ukraine

Caritas alone has sent over 1,000 lorries with humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It has also sent over 50,000 parcels as part of the 'A parcel for Ukraine' initiative.

The first shipment left for Ukraine as early as the 25 February. The Knights of Columbus sent more than 140,000 food parcels and thousands of winter coats, especially for children, to Ukraine. The Pauline Fathers bought 125 power generators with funds collected from pilgrims at the Shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Góra.

Humanitarian convoys organised by the Polish Order of Knights of Malta, among others, have also reached areas of military activity, such as Mariupol.

According to the Catholic Press Agency KAI, 189 trucks and buses and 109 trucks have passed through the logistics centre opened by the Medical Service of the Knights of Malta to date. Likewise, since the beginning of the war numerous shipments have been delivered by the 'Aid to the Church in Need' Foundation.

Role of religious sisters

"It is our privilege to be able to help our Ukrainian brothers and sisters," says Sister Dolores Zok, president of the Council of Religious Congregations of Women in Poland.

In an interview with Vatican News, Sister Dolores stressed that all religious institutes are ready to help their Ukrainian brothers and sisters.

"More than a thousand women's religious houses in Poland since the beginning of the war are engaged in different ways in helping refugees from Ukraine. According to the most recent data collected by the Council of Women's Religious Congregations, there are currently Ukrainians staying in 213 religious houses and centres. Of course we are also open to more support and want to continue to help," she said.

Sister Dolores also spoke about the help in Ukraine. "We are happy that our missionaries, the Polish sisters, are currently in Ukraine. In addition to the activities in Poland, there are 154 sisters from our country in Ukraine at the moment, i.e. about 40 per cent of the sisters in Ukraine are our compatriots. Currently 98 Polish women's congregations are engaged in helping in 154 houses in Ukraine".

Lastly, Sister Dolores emphasised the role of prayer, which the Holy Father has often stressed in the context of the war. "As sisters," she said, "we pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters and for peace in this country. We are people of faith. That is why we live in hope: we believe that peace will come. We pray daily for peace, entrusting this intention to the maternal heart of the Mother of God.”

Presence and spiritual support on site

As well as humanitarian help, spiritual aid is urgently needed. The priests and sisters working in Ukraine have remained with their faithful.

There are about 250 Polish priests, 154 nuns and 22 religious brothers in the country. There, they support the people, and coordinate the aid that arrives from Poland and other countries.

As a sign of solidarity with the suffering people in Ukraine, the President of the Polish bishops, Archbishop Gądecki, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, Primate of Poland, and Archbishop Stanisław Budzik, Metropolitan of Lublin, travelled to Ukraine last May. The bishops visited, among other locations Kyiv and Lviv, as well as Bucha and Irpin, the scene of mass murders in Ukraine.

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24 February 2023, 12:54