The situation in Kiev is getting more and more dire. A massive military convoy, more than 60 km (38 mile) long, is moving towards the Ukrainian capital. As the city increasingly comes under fire, priests are sticking it out with their communities in bunkers and aid raid shelters.
The testimonies which are reaching Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) are very moving. One comes from Fr Mateusz, of the Roman Catholic parish of St Anthony in the Ukrainian capital. In a message to ACN he reports: “For security reasons I can’t say much about the place where we have found refuge. There are already more than 30 of us here, including a few children, and we are experiencing God’s accompanying presence every day.”
In many bunkers and shelters, circumstances are difficult due to lack of space, fear and deprivation, the priest notes: “People have told me that there is a lot of anger and despair out there. People are crying and mourning a lot. It’s an atmosphere which is infectious. With us the atmosphere is different. Every day we pray together and adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Every night Fr Mateusz spends hours with his little community in Eucharistic adoration. This gives them great strength, according to the priest. “Recently, during evening adoration, I said to the Lord: ‘I am ready for everything, and I thank you for my whole life.’ And I thought about what kind of plans God has for us, for this parish, for the believers and for Ukraine. If that can become seed, the seed of hope and of faith for other people, then we are happy.”
One scene from the Gospels has become key for Fr Mateusz: “When the Pharisees came to Jesus and said that he should flee, because Herod wanted to kill him, he answered: ‘Go and tell that fox: see, I am driving out demons and carrying out healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my course… A prophet cannot perish outside Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:32-33). That strengthened his decision to stay in Kiev with his community. “Christ is risen and has conquered death. He is with us, walks beside us and is our hope.”
The members of St Anthony’s parish who are staying in other places can currently still follow the Mass online. Through his homilies Fr Mateusz tries to give the people courage. “We are shepherds to everyone, and more people come every day. God is really walking with us. And insofar as we manage to do the essentials – shopping, organising food – we feel safe. We are persevering with our brothers and sisters in prayer and are praying for peace.”
ACN is in regular contact with Fr Mateusz and countless other project partners and friends in Ukraine. The messages saying that people all over the world are praying for peace and showing their solidarity are also reaching the aid raid shelter, says Fr Mateusz. “We are grateful for every bit of help and support coming in from all over the world and for the kind words. We thank everyone who is praying for us and giving donations to help the needs of Ukraine.”
Despite the increasingly heavy attacks on Kiev, one thing is very important to Fr Mateusz and his little community in the aid raid shelter: “We are trusting that the voices of the war victims, the orphans and the widows are reaching everyone in the world – not to stir hatred in hearts or to sow bitterness. A Christian should pray for his enemies. And therefore, we should guard ourselves against all hatred and violence!”
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.