Rome (Italy). From 12 to 16 March 2022, Sr. Lidia Strzelczyk, Visiting Councilor of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, on behalf of Mother and the General Council, went to Poland to be a presence that listens and walks alongside the Sisters of the two Polish Provinces, engaged in welcoming people fleeing Ukraine. Sr. Lidia met the Animators and Provincial Councils, who shared their work with the refugees and the planning of the next steps. Interviewed, she told of her experience:
How is the FMA Institute responding?
First of all, through Mother and the Council, the Institute immediately acted, keeping in contact with the Communities of Ukraine and neighboring countries that organized themselves to help refugees, supporting them and sustaining them in immediate needs with material and economic aid.
Since the beginning of the conflicts, the Provinces of Poland and Slovakia have responded to the emergency by welcoming refugees with the means they had. Initially, before the bombings, these were people on the run for safety, people who had relatives or neighbors who had worked in Poland for years with a place to live and a job to support themselves. As the days went by, the situation worsened and the flow of people increased, especially women and children, with the horrors of war in their eyes.
What does the commitment of the FMA consist of?
- First of all, in keeping in touch with the sisters of the EEG Province to bring material and economic help with which to live every day. Up to now it has been possible to reach Lviv. Together with the Salesians of the Warsaw Mission Office, they prepare the packages and load them on the trucks with which they reach the Community.
- In aid at the border: from the very first days in Przemysl, Poland, there is a Ukrainian FMA who works in synergy with the sisters of another Congregation, as we do not have a home there. The FMA of the PLA Province went to the other frontier, taking turns for two weeks in taking care of basic necessities: food, medicine, blankets, clean clothes and linen, as well as the possibility of sleeping and washing in the structures, and then continuing to other destinations. Here the sisters collaborate a lot with other organizations, with Caritas, with volunteers, social services, the police, the border guard.
- In the reception of refugees in the houses: over half of the FMA communities have welcomed people only passing through, or for some time. It is not known how long this situation will last. They try to give some psychological support, because they are often in shock and need a warm and safe place, gestures of kindness.
- After responding to basic needs, we try to think about psychological and educational help, creating listening groups for adults and introducing children to school, oratory, and other free time activities, to reconstruct a situation of normality and help them find some peace of mind. Another need is of a spiritual nature, so they immediately look for an Orthodox or Greek-Catholic church nearby to be able to pray again.
What perspectives in the mission?
After these very busy weeks, we begin to think in the long term: welcoming means creating projects for people who have no other possibility of having a place to live, helping them to find a job, guaranteeing medical care, inserting children and young people in schools, and creating paths of education for peace.
In addition to teaching the Polish language to help the children to integrate, it is necessary that the FMA and educators also learn the Ukrainian language, to get closer to them in informal moments. Activities and summer camps are already being organized with the animators. Furthermore, VIDES Poland is taking action to carry out projects for young people who make themselves available for service.
What signs of hope did you see?
Surely a lot of availability and openness on the part of the Sisters and families. The generous response of young people is striking; they are truly supportive and solicitous. Many of them come to help out even if only for a while with what they can do.
A final message
I think we are in a Kairos, a favorable time that the Lord offers us to give the best of ourselves. This situation forces us to become an ‘outgoing Church’ and a ‘field hospital’, as Pope Francis says. For us it is a school of life. Despite the drama we are experiencing, there are many lights and we want to be signs of hope for the refugees, for the volunteers, and among us FMA.
The Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians continues to offer the possibility of sending contributions and offerings, through Donate now or through the methods indicated on the FMA Institute website, designating the Ukraine Emergency in the causal.