From our neighbours, the Discalced Carmelite Community in Schaarsbergen, The Netherlands, we received this moving testimony from a Carmelite friar in Kiyev, Ukraine
Interview with Father Józef Kucharczyk OCD (abbreviated: JK) by our Father General, Father Miguel Márquez Calle OCD (abbreviated: MMC) February 28, 2022
MMC: Hello dear Józef. As you know, we are all so intensely with you, so close, so in communion. We have started to pass on some news and the little videos you send: the people are so sensitive, so observant, that we all want to know something, we all want to have some news, so we can make sure you all are okay within the limits of the dire situation and that if there are people who are not okay, none of us are completely okay. I wanted to ask you to first describe to me what is our presence of Discalced Carmelites and Carmelite nuns in Ukraine, the monasteries we have and the presence we have had until now.
JK: Discalced Carmel has been present on Ukrainian soil since the 17th century, with a break during communism and we returned in 1991. We have 18 sisters in two houses, Kharkov and Kiev, the two largest cities in Ukraine. The brothers are currently 13, with two brothers in training. The brothers have three houses: in Kiev, Berdychiv and Gwozdawa.
MMC: What is the current situation of our presence? I think the Carmelite nuns left Kharkiv, and have already managed to cross the Ukrainian border into Slovakia, with the intention of reaching Poland. Some sisters from Kiev have stayed there. Tell us about the situation now: are the brothers in Kiev? Have those in Berdychiv granted the mayor’s request to stay and help, and that our house be a sort of bunker where those who may be refugees can be present?
JK: At the moment, Monday, February 28, only the 4 sisters from Kiev have remained in Ukraine. The Kharkiv community has left at this difficult time. They are already safe in Slovakia in one of our monasteries. I am with the Carmelite Sisters of Kiev. We’re doing well, we’re praying. We live in a part of town where we can feel the shelling from afar. Every day, every night we hear the shelling, but in the distance.
Father Marco is in our community and parish in Kiev, about a fifteen minute drive from us. He’s okay too. He is alone now, because people cannot participate in the Eucharist. He does a lot online, such as the rosary, nocturnal adoration, or the Eucharist. Many people from his parish take advantage of this time of prayer with him.
There are also two monasteries far away, almost two hours from Kiev. In Berdychiv, a monastery and national sanctuary: there the fathers have a different situation and prepare a bunker in the church for the people. Already the warning signals are being heard and at every signal people come to our monastery to take shelter from the shelling. Every time 150-200 people come for shelter.
Our third small house is near a forest in Gwozdawa. The Fathers have a small parish of 150 people who also pray and wait there.
Our presence here in Ukraine is important for the people to feel this security: spiritual security because we priests and sisters are with them, here. Today, for example, a young girl called me and asked: “Father, at three o’clock we all unite in prayer to ask for mercy for Ukraine”. Every day and every night there are initiatives of the people or of the brothers and sisters to unite in prayer. This is very important for the people and for us. But practical, real help is also important. Here the Church does all kinds of things, not only pray, but also work. Thus, with the help of brothers and sisters from all over the world, with the money we receive from people from all over the world, we are now preparing in Poland to buy medicine for the hospital in Kiev (very close to our monastery ) and for the hospital in Berdychiv (also close to our monastery). Medicines are now most needed in Ukraine.
Another opportunity for priests to help Ukraine now is to connect Ukrainians with those who want to help from all over the world. We priests come into contact with many people: in Ukraine we know government members, medical personnel, very poor and very rich people, people of different talents, people who have a car and can get to the border; in the world and Europe we also know people who want to help. So that we can connect those who need help with those who want to help. For example, today Father Maximilian said that a Polish friend has the opportunity to pass 3 cars for the fire brigade with everything they need for their work, and he asks us: “Where do you need it, how can we pass it on?” It is our duty to contact the firefighters here in Berdychiv and Kiev, and the people we know, to tell them: “We have 3 cars for you. Would you like them? How can we pass this gift on to you?” … So, in many ways we can help Ukraine, especially with medicine.
MMC: What is your feeling at the moment, what is your feeling from prayer, from faith, from what you are experiencing right now? What do you feel about the sisters, what attitude, what trust or what fear?
JK: I feel like I’m participating in two wars: the first is the physical, military war, with bombing, with fear, suffering, death; the other war, which is also real, is the spiritual war. Here, in this second war… war of prayer, war of the rosary… we, the Carmelite brothers and sisters, the priests and the Christian faithful, stand on the front line. We fight against the devil, we fight in the name of the Lord, we fight again on Calvary, we fight and wait for the peace of the risen Lord. This is what I feel: spiritual warfare! I don’t feel like a hero. The Carmelite sisters don’t feel like heroines. The priests and the faithful don’t feel like heroes, but we are really fighting the devil! This is our feeling to everyone.
MMC: What do you ask of us and what do the sisters ask of us, what do they expect from us, from the whole world? What does Ukraine expect from us? And whatever you want, comment any way and any way you want.
JK: Above all, we expect your participation in the spiritual war. Not all of us can participate in military warfare, but we can in spiritual warfare. The faithful participate with the Rosary in their hands, with Holy Communion during the Eucharistic celebration. This is a great support for us and we feel it. This morning I received by text message the testimony of a soldier who said that sometimes we do not know how or who helps us not to die. The battle in Berdychiv and Kiev is sometimes very difficult, but they feel that a hand (we know whose hand it is…), that hand helps them survive. Our prayer is very, very important!
Material support is also very important to us. This support is for the most needy people right now. The Church, all bishops, all orders, including us Carmelites, organize support for those in need. For example, all our monasteries in Poland now collect medicines for people, for two hospitals in Berdychiv and Kiev. Any possible material help is welcome if you want to help.
MMC: I send you my warm embrace, my embrace as a brother, as a father, and also admiring and welcoming and thanking you for your dedication. We’re all watching, and as I said in the message I sent to the Order to all of us in Ukraine: it’s not poetry, it’s not a pretty thing either, because it’s a real drama and it definitely revolutionizes effect in our world, this situation that has been created.
I send you a big hug, dear Józef.