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Wednesday, 06 December 2023 10:18

Visit to the Carmelites in Ukraine

A Reflection on a Visit to the Carmelite Communities in Włodzimierz and Sąsiadowice in Ukraine

Ever since the Russian Federation, under its leader Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine, people around the world who have connections with Ukraine have longed for this war to end, and for the people of Ukraine to be safe again in their own homes. Tragically, many have had to leave their homes and seek safety in other countries, while terrifying numbers of young men and women have lost their lives as a result of this senseless and meaningless aggression. The Carmelite connection with Ukraine is in the form of two communities of friars from the Polish province, living and working in the West, as well as the communities of Discalced Carmelite friars and nuns, living and working in the East. In normal times, our brothers in Włodzimierz offer a prayerful and unifying presence in a place where Orthodox Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics live in close contact with each other. In Sąsiadowice our three brothers occupy a house with a long Carmelite history, offering the normal spiritual and pastoral care to people in their own area and in the neighbouring parishes. 

On a recent visit, Fr. Richard Byrne and I were struck by the way the people in the West live their lives as if everything was normal. At the same time we could not fail to sense the tension and worry that are part of the reality of every day for people. There are numerous families who have already lost relatives and friends in the war, or who pray fervently for their loved ones who are caught up in defending their country, to return home safely. Local cemeteries bear witness to lives that have been lost on account of the war. 

In our conversations, we heard how grateful the friars are for the very generous aid that they have received from many parts of the Carmelite world. This allowed them to supply and transport food, clothing, medicines, torches, bedding, thermos flasks and military first aid kits to the areas that need help and well as to give assistance to refugees who pass through their towns on their way of safety elsewhere. The greatest concern is to care for soldiers, and that was impressive, as if to say that the soldiers were the ones who had taken on the task of defending and protecting their country, at great risk to their own lives.  I will always remember the Mass we celebrated with a full church in Sąsiadowice. There was an atmosphere of fervent prayer in the Church throughout the celebration and at the end in what the people call their Supplication, we prayed for many minutes for peace, safety and forgiveness for the world and for the people of Ukraine. May all these fervent prayers be heard, may the hearts and minds of the aggressor be turned away from war, and may all of this happen very soon. Maránatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come!

Fr. Míċeál O’Neill, O. Carm

Prior General

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