Ukraine: ‘most important mission of the Church is to bring God to the people’
MANY PEOPLE in the Ukraine are destitute, especially older people and families. The armed conflict taking place in the eastern part of the country also continues to claim victims. The suffering Church receives both pastoral and material aid.
Nonetheless, the Church should not get so wrapped up in its charitable commitments that it forgets that its primary focus needs to be the salvation of the soul, said Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, O.F.M., who heads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporyzhya.
Although his diocese supports many organizations and initiatives to help those in need through concrete measures and material aid, the bishop told us that it is very important “to pray with those who are suffering to keep them from losing their faith.”
The bishop, who was himself president of Caritas Spes for 20 years and thus oversaw the charitable activities of the Roman Catholic Church in all of Ukraine, said that people often expect the Church to be able to provide them with all the material aid they need. However, the bishop noted that, even though the Church is doing a great deal, it cannot provide for every material need.
He said: “More than anything, the mission of the Church is to bring God to the people and proclaim the truth to them. We should not only give them bread and forget the soul. It is not enough to just do good deeds, we should not cheat the people of the grace necessary for their salvation.”
The bishop added: “We approach the distribution of material aid not as a kind of grab-and-go service, but make sure it is done in a beautiful and dignified manner. We hold a reading from the Gospels and the recipients of the aid pray the Lord’s Prayer together for those who donated the gifts. We tell them that God is the one who is giving them the bread, but that He is doing so through their benefactors.”
Bishop Shyrokoradiuk pointed out that the witnesses to the miraculous multiplication of the bread in the Gospels primarily came to Jesus to hear the word of God. Jesus then gave them the bread to eat. He believes that the Church needs to “maintain the balance” and make the spiritual dimension of its mission a priority.
Accordingly, the prelate suggested, it is important to not only engage in charitable work, but to also build churches. For example, he said, all the children’s homes in his diocese have a chapel: “the children go there to discuss their problems with God.”
Last year, Aid to the Church in Need supported pastoral projects in the Ukraine with a total of $5.3M. The aid was primarily used to build and renovate churches and monasteries, train priests and religious, secure the livelihood of religious sisters as well as purchase vehicles for pastoral care.