UKRAINE & RUSSIA: COVID-19, ecumenism and rehabilitating drug addicts

With image of Father Grzegorz ministering during COVID-19 crisis (©Aid to the Church in Need)
With image of Father Grzegorz ministering during COVID-19 crisis (©Aid to the Church in Need)

PPE for 3,478 priests ministering in COVID-hit Ukraine and urgent help for a drug rehab centre in nearby Russia are just two of the projects supported this month by the UK office of a leading Catholic charity.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) provided the PPE for the priests as well as 92 seminarians and around 1,000 members of Ukraine’s religious communities.

Father Grzegorz, a Polish priest from Lublin who is now based in Lviv, was able to visit COVID-19 patients twice a week thanks to ACN’s help.

He said: “I visit every room, I bless them and talk to them and try to bring good news. I speak of God’s love…

“The patients have a strong faith. I told them that Jesus Christ is very close to them in their suffering, for he too suffered some of the same symptoms as those fighting this disease, since he too struggled to breathe…”

In nearby Russia, ACN is helping a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts in Sapernoe, led by Father Sergij Belkov, a Russian Orthodox priest who has run the centre since 1996.

The centre has rehabilitated hundreds of young men, with a maximum of 60 accommodated at one time, and has a sister centre in Torfyanoye that helps female addicts.

Speaking to ACN, Father Belkov said: “Thank you to the benefactors of ACN for giving pastoral and practical help…We pray every day for the benefactors – that is a rule.”

Also supported this month by ACN’s UK office was St Adalbert’s parish, in Russia’s Kaliningrad region, which has the highest proportion of Catholics in relation to the overall population.

The parish priest there, Father Jerzy Steckiewicz, is building a centre for families in crisis, parishioners and visiting pilgrims.

Father Steckiewicz, an advocate of ecumenism, is planning joint family events for Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and has worked on ACN’s previous ecumenical working group conferences and knows the local Russian Orthodox Metropolitan (Archbishop).

Also supported by ACN (UK) were priests in the Diocese of Irkutsk – the largest in the world at 10 million square kilometres – who received help for visits to far-flung parishioners.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, ACN (UK) underlined the importance of the region to the charity, which has long supported reconciliation between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

He said: “The vital and prophetic work of ACN has for many years focused heavily on Russia and Eastern Europe, helping heal the wounds of atheism and the denial of God.

“The help of ACN is still very much needed today – as a bridge-builder and healer to proclaim the love of Christ for all.

“As Metropolitan Kirill of Stavropol said: ‘There are no boundaries to charitable love and no borders across which God’s love cannot reach’.”