Nine Sacred Heart priests serve six parishes in Ukraine and work in a student dormitory. One of the parishes, the Sacred Heart Parish of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus in Irpień near Kiev, is close to Kiev airport, which is particularly heavily contested.
Persevering in the war zone
Father Piotr Chmielecki SCJ, deputy mission procurator in Poland, has been in contact with Father Andrzej Olejnik SCJ, parish priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Irpień near Kiev.
“Pray for us, pray, pray …”. This is what Fr. Olejnik answered when asked how he and the confreres were doing. “The Charity Center and the Church (under construction) of the Sacred Heart priests are located exactly nine kilometers from Hostomel Airport, currently a location of fierce fighting, and 26 kilometers from the Maidan of Independence, the very center of the capital of Ukraine.
We can hear the artillery shelling of Hostomel Airport all the time. I never expected to experience a war as an adult … I had already survived the 1992 war in Moldova-Transnistria as a child, but at that time I did not understand what happened. What I know and hear now is terrible for me.”
Of the nine Sacred Heart priests in Ukraine, only one is from the country itself, two are from Moldova, and six are from Poland. The foreign confreres could have left Ukraine unhindered, but they remain at their mission posts.
Father Tadeusz Wołos SCJ, deputy provincial, says: “We do not want to leave our parishioners without pastoral assistance. We will stay with them until the end. We remain ready to welcome people by providing them with places to sleep, necessary food, some financial help, etc.” The confreres also celebrate Holy Masses and broadcast them online.
“People are scared, but well organized. Many prefer to stay in their homes rather than flee. For now, they still have food and all the necessary means to survive. Everyone is waiting for the war to end as soon as possible,” Father Wołos continued.
Help for refugees
Still, of course, many people are fleeing. The Sacred Heart priests in Poland are taking care of the refugees who have already arrived and expect many more to arrive. They have taken some of them in or are organizing shelters, providing all the necessities of life, and giving pastoral assistance.
In addition, the priests of the Sacred Heart are urgently looking for housing for the refugees. Donations help to pay the rents and to provide the refugees with the basic necessities – clothing, food and hygiene articles in the first place.
As of Sunday (Feb. 27, 2022), some 368,000 people were already fleeing, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR; according to the Polish Border Guard, more than 200,000 refugees arrived in Poland alone.
In Transnistria, which is in a delicate situation politically, the soup kitchens, first aid supplies and other aid projects of the Sacred Heart priests are also open to refugees. There are not very many yet – mostly relatives or friends of Transnistrian residents. But the communities are ready to receive more refugees. They also need help to feed them and provide them with enough clothes.
Meanwhile, Bishop Dr. Heiner Wilmer SCJ, who is also chairman of Justitia-et-Pax, has called for unity and solidarity in Europe – especially with regard to the war refugees. He calls Russia’s attack “a serious crime” and an attack on the European project.
(A report from the German Province)