Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), traveled to Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine to meet with Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their homeland.
The purpose of the trip, from 29 April to 3 May, was to demonstrate solidarity with those displaced by the war, express gratitude and solidarity with caregivers, show support for local church leadership, and reaffirm the Christian commitment to support all those devastated by war.
The itinerary included visits with multiple church-based humanitarian aid organizations, many of them supported by CNEWA.
The cardinal was accompanied by two other CNEWA representatives: President Msgr. Peter Vaccari and Communications Director Michael La Civita. The delegation also included Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, and Bishop John Bonnici of Aid to the Church in Need.
On the first day of the visit, the delegation visited Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bibice, Poland, one of many parishes in the country to welcome Ukrainian refugees. They stopped in at the train station in Krakow, where church volunteers have been welcoming refugees and directing them to various Catholic aid organizations to have their basic needs met. The delegation also visited the health care center of Malteser International, the humanitarian wing of the Order of Malta, which was set up at the train station to welcome refugees in their need.
The next day, the delegation traveled to Kosice, eastern Slovakia. The small city has welcomed about 30,000 Ukrainian refugees, and the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Kosice, led by Archbishop Cyril Vasil, S.J., has been at the heart of the efforts.
During this time in Kosice, Archbishop Vasil underlined how CNEWA was among the first organizations to ask how it could provide support and then rushed aid in March and April to assist in his eparchy’s humanitarian efforts among Ukrainian refugees.
During vespers at the Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God that evening, a Ukrainian woman spoke about how she and her three children fled their hometown, close to Kyiv, after it was bombed by Russian military.
Cardinal Dolan expressed particular concern for women and children, whose husbands, fathers, grandfathers and brothers remained in Ukraine to fight on the frontline. While refugees hope to return to their homes in Ukraine, they are being cared for “tenderly, graciously and lovingly” by the volunteers in Kosice, he said. Later that evening, the delegation visited volunteers at the city’s train station, thanking and encouraging them in their work of welcoming new arrivals from Ukraine.
After Mass on Sunday, the delegation returned to Poland. On their way to Przemysl, one of the cities closest to the Ukrainian border, the delegation visited a warehouse run by Malteser International, stocked with supplies for the humanitarian effort.
In Przemysl, the delegation had a quick lunch with the local Roman and Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops at a Caritas-run restaurant at the train station. Proceeds from the restaurant help fund Caritas programming in the city. In the middle of the meal, when refugees arrived on a train that originated in Kyiv, the delegation interrupted their conversation to greet the refugees and witnessed the local church swing into action, providing refugees with the help they needed at that minute in a new and strange land.
The refugees “were processed here with a lot of help and compassion,” the cardinal said in a video produced by his communications team and posted on Facebook.
Local Caritas centers, staffed mostly by volunteers, serve 600 lunches and 8,000 tons of food to those in need per day, said the cardinal. To assist in coordinating this massive effort, CNEWA rushed funds to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Przemysl-Warsaw in March and April.
“So many volunteers, especially young people. Everything seems to be coordinated, all to help those refugees. I’ve just been amazed and inspired,” said Cardinal Dolan.
“There’s a sense of normalcy here,” he continued. “The people haven’t panicked. They’re not frantic. They’re coming together in serenity and trust and helping one another.”
Later that evening, under the cover of darkness, the delegation traveled to Lviv in western Ukraine. The next morning, the delegation visited a number of programs for internally displaced persons sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv, and met then with the leadership and students of Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), as well the families of internally displaced persons taking shelter there.
The university’s Volunteer Center is serving as a depot for humanitarian aid — collecting and dispatching needed supplies — for both internally displaced persons and for those fighting on the frontline, explained Bohdan, a student who is also leading UCU’s efforts in resettling the displaced in more stable accommodations. In addition to providing the university annual support for its regular programs, CNEWA rushed funds to UCU for its current assistance of internally displaced persons in March.
The delegation also visited the university’s chapel dedicated to the Wisdom of God and the Sheptytsky Center, from which the Volunteer Center operates.
“I thought I would come to Ukraine and see a great oppression, depression,” said Cardinal Dolan, according to a post on the university Facebook page. “Yes, I see sadness and pain because of the war and I am oppressed by it, but I am captivated by the vitality, hope and solidarity of the Ukrainians.”
The delegation then returned to Poland, stopping at the Mercy Center in Hrebenne. Operated by the Knights of Columbus with funding from CNEWA, the Mercy Center provides immediate assistance to refugees when they cross the border, everything from a fresh meal and a bed, a place to recharge their phones to call family back home and a chapel where they can pray. The cardinal celebrated Mass in the chapel for the staff and refugees, who were receiving help that day.
The cardinal described the delegation’s five-day visit as an opportunity to let refugees and displaced persons “know that we love them, that we’re praying with and for them, and that we’re advocating for them, and … that we want to help them as much as possible.”
“I have to pass it on to you, because I’ve heard it again and again: ‘Tell the folks of the United States how grateful we are for their help,’ ” he said.
Local and international media, including from the United States, followed Cardinal Dolan and the delegation throughout the visit.
To date, CNEWA has rushed nearly $2 million in emergency aid to support humanitarian efforts among refugees and internally displaced people in Ukraine, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
To donate to CNEWA’s Ukraine relief fund, go to: https://cnewa.org/campaigns/ukraine/