Knights of Columbus Reassure Ukrainians: ‘You’re Not Alone’
Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly gives firsthand look at ongoing aid, saying, ‘It’s a witness to the whole world that the answer to the problems we face is Jesus Christ.’
The Knights of Columbus are no strangers to stepping up with abundant aid in desperate situations. The war in Ukraine is no exception. This past year, the fraternal organization has stepped forward boldly with continuing aid in the war-torn country.
Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly shared some of what he observed and how the Knights are bringing aid to Ukraine with Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen in an email interview Feb. 24, marking the one year anniversary since the invasion.
Please share some of your experiences visiting Ukraine and Poland: What particular things have been most moving?
I visited Ukraine and Poland twice in 2022, beginning with a trip during Holy Week.
I saw tremendous suffering, and I saw real strength. Both trips were deeply moving.
The number of refugees and displaced persons, as well as the conditions they faced, were striking. I was watching people walk across the border, mostly women and children, with nothing more than a small suitcase. They would stop at our K of C Mercy Center for warmth, something to eat and to get some rest — both physical and spiritual. Often, there would be a priest or religious sister present. They didn’t know where they would go next, and our volunteers helped connect them with resources. I saw people living in a previously abandoned monastery in Ukraine, again with very little, in terms of material goods and a great deal of uncertainty. I saw separated families, and I heard the stories of lost loved ones.
But I also saw something inspiring and just as moving — the patriotism of one nation in crisis and another nation stepping bravely forward to assist in an hour of need. In Ukraine and Poland, I saw real solidarity, which is remarkable, given the history of the region. So I was saddened and inspired. But, overall, I was even more convinced of the importance of our humanitarian support.
Who were some of the others you met with while there?
Throughout both trips, my message was one of solidarity and a commitment of continued support.
In December, I met with government officials, prominent Catholic leaders from both the Latin and Ukrainian Greek Churches, and local Knights. I also spent time with displaced Ukrainians — just hearing their stories. These stories were heart-wrenching, but I was also able to see what a concrete difference our humanitarian aid is making for real people. Lives depend on it.
I met with President Andrzej Duda of Poland. President Duda and I both recognize that while much has been accomplished, the relief work must continue for the long term. I assured President Duda of the Knights’ commitment to ongoing support.
And this support needs to include some more long-term solutions as well as immediate aid. So I was especially proud to visit Our Lady of Częstochowa parish in Radom, Poland, where we opened the Blessed Michael McGivney House, a new long-term resource center for refugees. We will need more of these kinds of resources; and the Knights — in Poland, Ukraine and around the world — are committed to providing them.
What are some of the ways Knights have been helping the people in Ukraine — Knights from the U.S., Knights in Poland? How are needs being answered?
Well, first and foremost, by raising money and getting immediate aid to people on the ground. Within 36 hours of the Russian invasion, the Knights of Columbus committed $1.5 million toward humanitarian relief and established the Ukraine Solidarity Fund. To date, the Knights have raised more than $20 million.
Less than a week after the invasion began, we began organizing our K of C Charity Convoys — truckloads of supplies, which our members brought into Ukraine.
The Knights also established Mercy Centers along the Poland-Ukraine border that served more than 300,000 people.
More recently, we began the “Powering Our Parishes” program to provide generators, especially important in the winter, as power plants have been increasingly targeted. We’re sending these generators to parishes in Ukraine, so that they can provide centers for warmth and for community, in addition to keeping the churches themselves running.
We’ve also partnered with other organizations to magnify our help, calling upon their particular areas of expertise. With these partners, we’ve provided health care to civilians, and we’re underway with a project to remove mines from fields and waterways, so that people can return to their liberated lands and restore some semblance of normal life. We’ve worked with other groups to build orphanages and provide for the education of Ukrainian children.
Since Knights always bring spiritual support into all of their efforts, can you share some thoughts on this aspect from your trips?
I think something that is sometimes overlooked — but that from a Catholic perspective is just as important as our material aid — is our spiritual support. As the Polish people once said to John Paul II in a different time, but also a time of great suffering and trial: “We want God.”
While in Ukraine, I was invited to attend a vespers service with Ukrainian Greek Catholic seminarians and to offer a few words. I told them I thought they were among the most important future leaders of Ukraine because they are to be, principally, witnesses to the faith. It is faith in Jesus Christ that can ground the culture of Ukraine and can carry it through these dark times. But even more than that, it’s a witness to the whole world that the answer to the problems we face is Jesus Christ. Knights around the world are praying regularly for the people of Ukraine and for a just end to the war.
Are there Knights in Ukraine?
We have more than 2,000 Knights in Ukraine, and that includes more than 140 who joined our ranks during the war. We also have more than 7,200 Knights across the border in Poland. So we are uniquely suited to help. We’re not an aid agency. But we are part of the affected communities.
Through our Knights in Ukraine, we get real-time information on what is needed at any given moment. This allows us to continually adapt our aid to the changing circumstances.
More importantly, this war impacts our families. And that’s why we’re not going anywhere. That is why I can say with confidence to the Ukrainians, “You’re not alone.” That is why I promised to them that we’ll be there for the long haul.
Are the Knights continuing to make this aid a priority?
Knights in Ukraine, Poland and around the world have made our response to the humanitarian needs of those impacted by the invasion a priority since Day One. We continually ask our members to pray for those affected by the war and to support our relief efforts through the Ukraine Solidarity Fund.
We hope to bring renewed attention to the humanitarian crisis in the region through our upcoming documentary In Solidarity With Ukraine, which will air on ABC network affiliates across the United States for six consecutive weekends, beginning Feb. 26. It will give a unique inside view of the situation on the ground in Ukraine, and I hope it will inspire more people to offer material and spiritual aid.
What more would you like to see the Knights doing for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and refugees?
As we enter Lent, it is a time for deepening our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I ask Knights around the world to pray for those suffering in this conflict, to fast for peace and justice, and to give generously to those in need, especially the women and children, who suffer most.