Marian Fathers Offer Shelter, Spiritual Solace Amid Ukraine War
From battle-ravaged Kharkiv in Ukraine to refugee centers in Poland, Marians of the Immaculate Conception are on the front lines to aid those in need.
“Situation in Kharkiv — War. Hot war. Artillery. Bombers and fighters. Many wounded and dead civilians. Over 400 only in Kharkiv,” reported Father Mykola Byelichev, one of two Marians of the Immaculate Conception priests at their Holy Family parish in eastern Ukraine, via WhatsApp this week.
Then he added, “We expect that situation will be worse soon. Putin wants to destroy our city. He commanded to shoot civilians — Russian soldiers tell about it.
“They fire at houses, kill people in cars. I can’t count their crimes …”
While battles rages around them, Father Byelichev and Father Anatolij Klak are the only Marian priests remaining in their chapel and house caring for parishioners.
The parish is located on the outskirts of the city. “Generally the situation is very difficult there due to the constant bombing of the city and the residential areas,” Marian Father Wojtek Jasinski, the congregation’s general treasurer, told the Register from Rome.
He, too, explained that Kharkiv has been almost continually bombed by the Russians, especially the residential areas. “People feel like the Russians would like to smash the city to the ground; they want to destroy it completely. … They are bombing it all the time, devastating the city and killing the innocent people. Our two Marian priests, the bishop of the diocese and the pastor of the cathedral stay with the faithful. Our parish seems to be a bit safer than in other parts of the city,” at least for the time being.
“We have a pretty new church and house,” Marian Father Joseph Roesch, vicar general in Rome, told the Register. About 30 people sought and received shelter there at first. Now, as conditions change quickly, the total is “14 people in our home to care about,” said Father Byelichev, explaining that two are Orthodox, and the rest are Catholics.
The priests’ house was hit by a shell, “but it did not explode, which is unbelievable,” Father Roesch said. “The house is not damaged but all around them” other buildings were damaged. In the city, the Catholic diocese’s office building sustained damage.
“Artillery fire continues to destroy houses and infrastructure,” seconded Father Jasinski. “A bomb fell on the priests’ house last week, but, thankfully, it did not explode.”
“All the rooms in the religious house have been given to the faithful.” Those needing help are “women, elderly people, handicapped (one autistic child),” Father Jasinski explained. “In the basement of the church has been arranged the chapel where our priests celebrate the Holy Mass. Together with the faithful they adore the Blessed Sacrament — they pray for peace. Our priests try to provide food for those who stay with us. The chapel serves also as a shelter during the bombing.”
The safe haven of the church and house continues at present, yet those sheltering face various hardships. “The gas-fired boiler broke, but, thankfully, they are able to heat a bit the house with a smaller wood-fired boiler,” reported Father Jasinski. “So far, the electricity and water have been supplied.”
Lights cannot be turned on at night for safety during the bombings. And even if the priests wanted to get some of the elderly away, they now have no means for it. They had a car, but “they gave it to religious sisters to get away,” Father Roesch said.
“So they remain with a bike, which they use if they need to go and buy food,” according to Father Jasinski. “So far, they have enough food for all people who stay with them.”
But how soon might that be difficult to obtain? Already, Father Byelichev said from inside the parish, “We need many things, but most of all medicines — first aid and antibiotics — a medevac car for volunteers, and many other things …”
Father Byelichev had already reported to Vatican News of the “dramatic shortage of medicines in the city.” There is a five-hour wait in line at pharmacies, “and still there is almost nothing in them. Besides, it is very dangerous, because for five days they have been shelling us non-stop.”
As this was being written on March 15, Father Byelichev got a message to the Register, saying, “But last night was horrible. Russians bombed center of the city.” And minutes later, “In Kharkiv, there are many wounded civilians and big problems to evacuate them because usual ambulance doesn’t want to go to places where Russians keep firing.” The priests want to get them help. “We have volunteers, but we need car for that purpose,” he said. In short order, he spoke to someone about lending a medevac car. “He agreed but said it must be a miracle. … I believe that Jesus will guide you.”
Other Marians in Ukraine
While Kharkiv is the only parish in the eastern part of the country administered by the Marian congregation, which numbers slightly more than 20 priests and a deacon in Ukraine, there are four other parishes in the western part of the country, closer to Poland and Moldova.
Father Jasinski provided information about those parishes to the Register.
Khmelnyckyj parish, 149 miles south of Lviv, has not been attacked at this point, but “nearby places were blasted by artillery attack. There are many refugees from the other parts of the country who seek and have found help in the parish. They can receive food, clothes, medicine, etc. Some refugees decide to stay in the city; many, after some rest, try to get to the Polish border. The parish organizes humanitarian supplies for the most affected by the war in Kyiv and nearby cities. They try to provide food, clothes (shoes, sleeping bags, thermal-proof underwear) medicine [and other] supplies. The supplies have been organized by the Marian Helpers Center (MHC) in Warsaw.”
Chernivtsi parish is 11 miles in a straight line from the border with Moldova. Russian troops are in the area there, too. “The shells fired so far have only fallen on the fields and spared our homes; we see in this the protection of the Mother of God,” Marian Father Sergiusz Jakubowski told Vatican News.
Refugees stay with the Marians one night before fleeing into Moldova and points west. These Marians also sent some humanitarian aid to Kyiv and Kharkiv. At the same time, they are already experiencing shortages of food, medicine and personal hygiene products. “Maybe here, thank God, we don’t feel explosions and other military actions, but I see that the entire Ukraine will be affected by a humanitarian war, so to speak,” Father Jakubowski said.
Gorodok Podilskij parish in the southwest is known for Mercy House, a home caring for the elderly and handicapped. As this parish is also helping refugees, along with caring for the elderly and handicapped, the daily situation has become more difficult, with trying to buy food and necessary medicines.
Mogiliv Podilskij parish in the west, near the border with Moldavia, reports the parish priest and parishioners are trying to help women and children whose husbands and fathers are fighting and sheltering refugees from the eastern part of the country. According to Father Jasinski, “Like in other places, there is a fear, but also the spirit of courage and hope that the country will be safe and free.”
Help for People and Refugees
In neighboring Poland, the Marians are buying and shipping supplies to Ukraine. For instance, Father Jasinski pointed out the nursing home in Gorodok, which has more than 100 elderly and disabled people and is having “more and more problems to buy food, medicine, hygiene supplies in Ukraine,” is a recipient of help from the Marian Fathers in Poland who are organizing and providing this aid, which will, of necessity, be a long-term project.
People in Marian congregation parishes bring everything from food and medicines to clothes and toys for children for both refugees and those in Ukraine. The Warsaw Marian Helpers Center is organizing and supervising everything to answer basic needs. They are even helping provide housing. One group of refugees will stay in one of the Marians’ pilgrim houses in the Shrine of Our Lady in Lichen.
Father Roesch said that the Marian Helpers in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the location of the National Shrine of Divine Mercy, are also working to send help. Already, a cargo plane filled with medical supplies will be leaving shortly for Poland.
Back in Chernivtsi, Father Jakubowski pointed out to Vatican Radio that the church where the Marians have been working since 1984 is the first one communist authorities returned to Catholics 33 years ago. “Really a lot of people have returned to the Church. I won’t say that they didn’t go to Mass or didn’t use the sacraments, but they kind of fell asleep in their religious life. And now this war, which began, has shown us that it is difficult without God. God is able to give us the spiritual, inner strength that our soldiers who are bravely fighting now have, but also all of us to support them with prayer and many concrete actions.”
“People have seen that the only one who can soothe them in this great pain and suffering that we are unfortunately experiencing now is the Lord God,” he added. “We have with us many families who have fled from these hot spots, from Kyiv, from Kharkiv. I see that everyone comes to church, and prayer has really become fervent. People have really become aware of the presence of God in their lives, of such care from the Lord God.
“We have many chapels built here in recent years, and people do not only pray in church, but also gather every day at Marian grottos, pray the Rosary, ask for the protection of the Mother of God. Indeed, I see that, despite the proximity of the Russian military, for the time being, we have the mental comfort for the time being.”
“We are not broken. Suffering has united us,” Father Byelichev told Vatican News. “Everyone helps each other; they share food. These are examples of the everyday holiness that Pope Francis wrote about in Gaudete et Exsultate. The local doctors are such everyday saints.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
You can donate to the Marians in Stockbridge at Marian.org/Ukraine, where 100% of your donation “goes directly to those in need through our Marian priests in Ukraine and Poland.”
And everyone can answer this request: The Marian Fathers are urging all the faithful to unite in prayer and continue praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day for peace and for an end to the war in Ukraine.
- marian priests
- ukraine crisis
- catholic chaplains
- divine mercy
- Father Mykola Byelichev
- Father Anatolij Klak
- marians of the immaculate conception