Greetings! First, let me greet Katia who, as I have heard from others, translates my texts into Ukrainian. Hello, Katia! Oh, sorry, I shall be writing a lot this night as well. Everything is combined in me: shock inside me changes into anger, hopelessness, joy, gratitude, new knowledge and doubts… I cannot make it brief, and I do not want that everything I have experienced is left with me. It seems to be not healthy, but I shall add it is largely unnecessary. The other thing is I feel like I am committed to telling it… It is silly! It is beautiful and scary, inspiring and dispiriting, joyful and sad…
I shall write about everything you probably think about a nun’s ministry in Ukraine as being not missionary. I shall write about what I have seen here just in the evening, when we returned to Kyiv after a 12-hour-journey. Seating on a backseat of the car running through nighttime streets of the 5.5 billion city, I have spoken to Sr. Barbara Peterlin, MC. Humbly and somewhat shyly, she has answered my questions. Her replies have been humble and sincere, her way of telling her story has been unassertive. Love that has been hidden in her replies has overgrown the highest skyscrapers in this capital city. A giant would feel clumsy and small beside her. “How much worthy of astonishment these sisters are!” I wish I could describe it for you… But never mind, I shall do my best.
How much charity, how much understanding of others, how much of such things we lack every day they have… What is their task? Being a connection between the homeless, the sick in hospitals and doctors. The voice of those whom sisters take care about without any delay! For the sake of this task, responsible persons in hospitals hear stories, wishes and requests of the sick. These are unnoticeable and nameless in the streets, while others are in hospitals forsaken by the whole world. Yesterday I described the activity of a sister who is blessed now. In the evening I have seen once more that we look for examples among those who are presently serving. There is no need to delve far into history. Not at all!
When you see the conditions in which sisters work in Kyiv, when you hear about the society that does not understand, and callous authorities, and disrespect to a human being, you say: “Oh my God!” I have asked Sr. Barbara about the hardest time in her activity.
“It was hard last summer, when we were in a closed hospital. They have a ‘corporate vacation’, during which the staff paints the walls of hospital departments, and everyone by his or her own forces repairs not the shiniest rooms. We visited and cleaned those homeless that received their treatment in a ward which had not yet been closed for renovation. While we were working, a nurse came in and invited us into a nearby department where ill homeless persons were undergoing their treatment as well. She did not know before what we were doing. Having finished, we went to an upper floor, found the nurse and asked her to show us where the homeless were receiving their treatment. She was at the very end of a large department which then seemed to me still longer than it was in reality!
I was afraid to see what was awaiting me at the end of the department, what they were hiding in a so remote room. There is a lecture room in every department. So she opened it, and there were three exam tables there. There were no beds, just exam tables! Those were reserved for three homeless who lived out their life in an extremely weak condition. One of them probably collapsed on the floor when he wanted to go to the toilet. He just kept on lying there. And nobody knew for how long it was… Another one was dying; the third person had severe cancer and had a big tumor on his neck. He could not even swallow his saliva. By the look of him, we could see how much he was suffering. They were very dirty, untended and poor to the maximum. The hardest thing about it was to notice that the hospital staff had not given any water to them.
When we had washed them and changed their clothes, I offered some water to them. You could see that they had not had a drop of water in their mouths for a long time. I have never encountered such a thirst; I have not seen anyone so much thirsty until that moment! It was in the hospital, among people…
Again, it was hard to realize that nobody cared for them. It was hard to face complete indifference of those people who were called to hear sufferings of others. They could not show it more openly that they did not consider the homeless to be people just like them!”
How can this be possible? To all of us, it seems to be not real that you will not get elementary help in a hospital. It seems to me that we understand it easier when the poor are disrespected and derided in the streets, while lots of people pass by, as if they were not there. But… was that in the hospital?!
Sister Barbara replies: “Most often we would hear they are not worthy of being helped. Not worthy. As if someone must earn that. In this world, it is far from being evident that everyone deserves assistance. People do not understand that just their being humans, especially in their workplace, makes them obliged to help others in need!”
This is exactly what nuns are doing! Without any questions or barriers, completely devoid of any reservations, they help those who cannot see anybody else in them but angels!
I know it is difficult to understand, but imagine that nobody has given you a hand for years, that you do not remember when someone hugged you last, that you do not know for sure where exactly your house used to be, that you do not have any papers, any rights, and you are forbidden to see your children. Like an animal, you search for a warm shelter every night… Maybe, jail is harsh for you, or your addiction has led you to suicidal thoughts, maybe it has led you to unsuccessful attempts of this act… You are seriously or terminally ill, your legs are amputated, you are told about an approaching death… You are forsaken at the end of a corridor that has bad smell, and people pass by as if you are not there. You are too weak to call out for help. You mobilize your energy, but no one hears you! People look at you but do not see you!
However, later in a room to which you have been sent by aid workers, a nun will find you, and she kindly wishes to hear your name. Her greeting to you has been one of your farthest flashbacks. The sister comes in, and is not ashamed to help in the most personal things that belong to every living creature. It was her must! Because she was taken out of you. But maybe you have lost her on your own. This does not matter! Love knows no conventions. She will come, approach, inspire and help! She comes every day. She does not know you, maybe she has been told bad things, but she never minds. She will come and render assistance. She wants nothing for it, never asks where your money is, never raises her voice, does not threat with anything, unless… There is no ‘unless’ in what she says. There is just respect! How? Why? Why and how is this possible that she is here?
Thanks be to God, that in our modern world, in this empty mess of fleeting pleasures and search for glamour, which is rotten down to the limit, there are still people who hear the call – both God’s call and that of a human. Thanks be to God!
Mr. Dmytro, who runs a home, says that only the faith helps Depaul volunteers and staff stay involved in this work. There is no progress; light at the end of the tunnel disappears. When he has told me that even homeless persons hiding from the law come to them, I have asked him: “And how many times have the police come?” – “Never,” he replied and added: “From time to time the police just bring to our door someone who has done something to them, but now they do not know what they should do with that person!” The police have recently come to us with a woman who has been internationally wanted, as it has turned out later. And a police car brought her to the door of our home. Is it an escort or what? Yes, in this world I would laugh at many things, if they were not so hurting and terrible!
But what does the state?.. Nothing! However, only when it is necessary to snatch some political moments, do state representatives show themselves. Otherwise you do not hear from them, you do not see them, never mind the money. Pure nothing! When last winter was approaching, suddenly television people arrived at the door of our center and laughing and full of hope announced: “Look how our city cares for others. The winter is coming, with this house, everyone will be warm!” Not a word about our organization collecting money for the rent on the gridiron, or about its staff and volunteers looking after the homeless every night. Not a single word! They just said: “Look at our city…”
This is the evidence that the mass media can also speak differently: DePaul is the organization I have known nothing about, but now judging from some examples in Ukraine, I have trust in their activity. I find it incredible! Their staff has both feet on the ground, and they help get up to those who are feeble and fall down. It is a fair go! When Dima shook my hand greeting me with a smile, I felt: that was exactly it! He is honest, passionate about work, strengthened with faith and does the impossible. And I cannot do anything! I want nothing. This is what I am zealous in. Here, I am like apostles whose eyes have been opened. At home I shall be like Peter in front of the maid who kept the door… Well, as I have already said: spiritual exercises! Let them “hold” me and help all of you “change” a little bit. But do not feel bitter about it…