Ukraine: Faith is triumphing over fear

Despite ongoing crisis and conflict in Ukraine, the Church is thriving – according to a Church leader – who described a surge in priestly vocations and a dramatic increase in Mass attendance. 

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about a growth in religious devotion at a time of continuing tensions in parts of the country and daily acts of violence. 

Describing the challenges in his Archdiocese of Kiev, he said his newly re-established seminary was “the fastest-growing in the Church”.        He added that, despite a vocations boom, the Church is still short of priests thanks to a dramatic increase in Mass-goers.

The Major Archbishop explained how the Church’s growth was taking place against a backdrop in which, as he put it, “Ukraine is bleeding”. He said: “No one talks about the on-going military action in eastern Ukraine any more. “Every day someone is injured or killed. “In the last 24 hours, two people were killed and four wounded.

“Two million people have officially been displaced, but the Church has survived because it stands in solidarity with all the different people in Ukraine.” “Millions of our people are leaving. One of our bishops called it an evacuation, not an immigration,” he added.

“In front of the disaster of war, many are asking: ‘Why is this happening to me?’ What is the sense of my suffering?’ No politician, no representative of the great G7 can respond to this.” But the archbishop said Ukraine can be a global “solution, not a problem”.

He explained: “We find an answer to those existential questions in the Word of God. People are attracted to that Church, that community, which is authentic and not linked to State power.” “Ukraine is a new democracy. We are trying to witness to Christian values as a cornerstone for building a successful modern society.” He said the Church’s Vibrant Parish volunteer programme was proving very effective, offering parishioners much-needed hope.

The Major Archbishop said: “Vibrant Parish makes our churches a meeting place to encounter the ‘living Christ’. Showing mercy is the task of every authentic Christian.”

According to a survey, the three groups with the highest positive rating among Ukrainian people are the Volunteer Movement, the army and the Church.

The Volunteer Movement provides money, food, warm clothes, medicines and medical supplies, as well as help for injured soldiers.

Volunteers in eastern Ukraine are often part of Greek Catholic parish communities and frequently help out in the evenings after doing a day’s work. Saying that he needed 50 more priests for his diocese alone, he praised Aid to the Church in Need for its ongoing financial support for the training of clergy. He said: “Our seminarians are the hope of our Church. We thank Aid to the Church in Need for helping us not only to receive these vocations but to train them because our Church desperately needs them.

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  • Founded in 1914 in Italy by Fr. Giacomo Alberione
  • Fr. Alberione understood the ever increasing influence of the media (in this time the press) and wanted to use them as means of evangelisation
  • The charism of the Daughters of St. Paul is the proclamation via the mass media. They have libraries, edit and print Christian books and use other means of mass communications (radio, magazines etc.)
  • There are about 2.500 sisters in 50 countries of the world.

Despite rep-resenting less than two percent in a country populated almost entirely by Muslims, there are at least 1.1 million Catholics in Pakistan, a figure comparable with the number of practising Catholics for example in Great Britain. Up to 85 percent of the Christian population live in villages, mostly as “bonded labour” entirely dependent on urban-based landlords often incited by militant forms of Islam. When job vacancies arise, preference automatically goes to Mus-lims. When the Christians do get jobs – mostly as farm labourers, domestic cooks and clean-ers and road sweepers – pay is woefully poor. Child labour is commonplace – parents can’t afford education and daren’t spare them from the workplace for fear of the landlord docking their pay. Lacking identity cards and the right to vote, they have virtually no political repre-sentation. Nor do they have any legitimate access to health care.

And yet, seminaries are packed, the catechist training programmes are full, aspirants joining convents are many and the Church that suffers daily persecution is thriving. It is a young and dynamic, though very poor Church.

This crisis of education and identity among the Catholics – who see themselves and indeed are every bit as much as Pakistanis as their Islamic fellow citizens – is raising serious prob-lems for the Church. The changing situation in the country calls for new strategies. Education is key for Christians to escape ignorance and poverty. Muslims as well estimate a lot the good standard of education the Church provides. Many Muslim leaders have attended Christian schools and are far less at risk of joining extremist anti-Christian agitation.

In this situation especially, the work of the religious sisters is of particular importance. One of the very active congregations are the Daughters of St. Paul. In Pakistan they are in four com-munities in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and since 2016 in Multan united in the Pauline spirit of putting on the mind and the heart of Christ like St. Paul, in order to become all to all and to give Jesus to the world like Mary, the Queen of Apostles. This congregation was founded by an Italian priest, Fr. James Alberione in Alba, Italy in June 15, 1915. They are part of the Pauline Family: five religious institutes and five associations of pontifical approval.

The Daughters of St. Paul came to Pakistan on the 12th of August 1965 because of the great vision of the founder and co-foundress, Sr. Thecla Merlo who used to pass by Karachi port in their journey to and from the Orient. Pakistan is a very important link to reach the different countries in the world. Fr. James and Sr. Tecla prayed and worked hard to fulfill their great dream of having a community in Pakistan; a community that could pave the way for local vocations.

On June 15, 2015, as the congregation spread in 51 countries and opened the way for its 100th year foundation anniversary, the different communities in Pakistan held Masses in different Churches as thanksgiving for all the blessings received along the way of its missionary jour-neys in villages and cities, schools and hospitals, jails and resorts, parishes and homes, bring-ing the printed and audio-visual forms of the Gospel.

The Sisters in Pakistan benefit of the help from the Pauline Family. The spiritual guidance and assistance of the Society of St. Paul, whenever they are asked. As part of the Pauline Family, the daily task of the Daughters of St. Paul (FSP) is to atone for sins committed be-cause of the improper use of media. To stress the power of media as instruments for good, the congregation’s constitutions require active involvement of the Sisters in the annual celebra-tions of World Communications Day. The book centres, various book exhibits and media animations witness to the fact that media serve life.

ACN in the past has helped with a series of projects. The last one in 2018 was support for the recently founded community of the sisters in Multan diocese, located in Southern Punjab.


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