BLOG: “The Holy Father is present in Ukraine. He is suffering with you.”

Ukrainian refugees arriving at the retreat house in Lviv on their way to Poland.
Ukrainian refugees arriving at the retreat house in Lviv on their way to Poland.

“There is a lot of coming and going here. Thousands of refugees arrive every day,” Father Wladyslaw Biszko tells Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The priest leads a pilgrim and retreat house in Lviv, on the same site as the Roman Catholic seminary.

Since the start of the war, the buildings, which were constructed with help from ACN, have been used to house refugees from all over Ukraine. Last Wednesday, the Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski visited the centre, which now serves as a refugee camp.

 “We don’t ask about religion”

The priest explains that the retreat house is open to all those seeking reuge. “We don’t ask about religion. However, people should know that they are in a Catholic centre. We pray before meals and have devotions every evening, which are well received.”

“About 120 people live here all the time,” reports Fr Biszko. “They are simply waiting to see whether they can go back to their houses.” Most of those being cared for are mothers with their children or elderly people who do not want to leave their homeland– at least not yet. People are sleeping in every available space, even on the floor of the conference rooms.

The refugees do not just include Ukrainians. Visiting students from abroad, for example India, are also seeking safety. Before the war, Lviv, Kyiv, Odessa and Kharkhov were popular with international students.

Thank you to everyone who is showing their love towards Ukraine

As the envoy of Pope Francis, Cardinal Krajewski has been in Ukraine since Tuesday and is seeking to strengthen the Church’s relief work. “The Holy Father is present in Ukraine,” he said during his visit to the centre, “Although he is in the Vatican. He is suffering with you. The Pope is experiencing the way of the Cross which you in Ukraine are walking.”

The Cardinal, who as the Pope’s almoner is responsible for distributing charity in his name, highlighted the fact that after the war started Pope Francis visited the Russian ambassador to the Holy See to appeal for “compassion and peace”. Normally it is the Pope who summons ambassadors.

The pontiff is advocating for peace “in every imaginable way,” said Cardinal Krajewski. “At the same time the Pope is grateful to everyone who is showing their love towards Ukraine.”

ACN is providing an emergency package of more than £1 million (€1.3 million). Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, international executive president of ACN, said the money will go to priests and religious who work across the country in parishes, or with refugees, orphans and the elderly. The charity is also asking for prayers for peace in Ukraine.