The Vincentian Family in Ukraine. – Connecting the Global and the Local levels – Advocacy at the UN
I was invited last week to visit the works of the Vincentian Family in Ukraine. This was a wonderfully busy week that brought me to experience firsthand the effective efforts of collaboration between the members of the 10 branches of our family in this area of the world. I saw the laity, the consecrated and the ordained members of the family interacting, acting and dreaming together in a very natural way… clearly this is the new way of how we are called to be and act!
In Ukraine I was exposed to works with homelessness, refugees, drug-addict rehabilitation, health care for homeless people, afterschool programs for poor children, the national Catholic Students fellowship (International students from many countries of Africa and from India), ecumenical works, etc. In general I believe that this is a courageous ministry facing some of the more challenging dimensions of the local reality – in deep connection with a committed ministry of evangelization and spiritual animation of the minority Catholic communities. I even had the opportunity to be with a visionary lay Catholic, Stefan Valo, very connected with the works of the Vincentian family, who has devoted his life and resources to educate the world about climate change by presenting a new and revolutionary theory. According to Valo the draining of our soils is as responsible of climate change as is greenhouse gas emissions. He has developed a unique method of raising the groundwater levels and reviving streams and rivers.
This trip confirmed my understanding that:
The presence of the Vincentian family at the United Nations can be enhanced very meaningfully if we continue to dare to find our collective voice for advocacy and develop projects in which we share our human and economic resources. Together, in action and words, we can be more effective and make our collaboration a stronger tool to serve the poor at all levels: direct service, systemic change projects, and advocacy to influence social policy locally, nationally and globally. These three dimensions are inseparable from a systemic understanding of reality.
We need to learn and to be aware of the connection of the global and the local levels in a globalized society or consequently our understanding of reality would be naïve and likely would lead us to a narrative and a set of actions that can perpetuate the injustices and structures that oppress and alienate the poor we want to serve.
Being in Ukraine forced me as well to think again of those questions that can help us to connect the dots of local-global reality:
How are the needs of the poor in Ukraine (or in any of our communities) connected to global trends? These trends could be related to the environment, the global economy, public health, international conflicts, and so forth. What does the Ukrainian reality (our own reality) have in common with others around the world? For instance, we can consider similarities in geographic location, natural resources, demographic diversity, and so forth.
How are the personal experiences of the Vincentian family in Ukraine (in our own community) connected to universal experiences? These connections could include challenges such as violence, war, poverty, and homelessness – or positive experiences such as artistic traditions, hospitality, rituals, and celebrations. Being in Ukraine forced me to be thankful again for the beauty of our collective humanity and our planet!
What are some of the familiar aspects of all cultures, and how are they addressed similarly or differently in the Ukrainian culture (or in our own culture) and in communities around the world? Examples of familiar aspects of culture include social structures, food, clothing, and shelter.
In several opportunities that I had to talk with international students, confreres, or other members of the Vincentian family in Ukraine, I was impressed with how aware they were of the importance of establishing global connections. This was, I think, the main reason why they invited me to visit the country in the first place. We are in fact just one human family, one Vincentian Family. We only share one common home – our planet – and everything, absolutely everything, is interconnected in visible and sometimes mysterious (spiritual) ways.
If we really want to come together and collaborate in meaningful ways as one Vincentian Family, we need first to identify relationships on which to build. A key question to ask is, “Who else around the world is affected by the issues, concerns, and trends that affect our community?” As well, vice versa: “How does this global issue, concern, or trend affect our community?” From there we will be able to find also common and original trends in the way we face these challenging realities. We will be able to also identify best practices to share them.
In an interview in Kiev for a Catholic radio station, I was asked if I was aware of the reality of the Ukrainian people facing the challenges of a possible Russian invasion for now two years. I am in fact aware of the many people who have died on both sides, many of them innocent young soldiers. I also am also aware of the many refugees this conflict is causing. I also am aware of the negative consequences that invasions and wars cause in people and the environment. I am also aware of how these facts change the narrative and the collective imagination. You are not alone, I told the woman conducting the interview and the translators. They are not alone when they come together to protect the integrity of the Ukrainian territory and the dignity of the Ukrainian people. Ukraine has witnessed the most violent acts of civil unrest in the country’s post-Soviet history. Blood has been, and continues to, spill as lives continue to be taken. The world got to know a nation, who after protests and fighting, is not giving up. As I witnessed this being in the country my mind and my heart were taken by the media outlets to join the people of Ethiopia as they began to fight their own fight for liberation this week.
A song was a part of my journey in Ukraine. When they were fighting, people constantly played a couple of songs of liberation! The Polish song ‘Give Ukraine A Helping Hand’ kept on circulating in their heads, and was louder than the explosions of grenades or fireworks. This song is going to be playing in my heart for a long time. Give… a helping hand!
The Ukrainian people are not alone. Not one of our communities are alone. We need to be sure that everyone, especially those who feel terribly alone due to inhuman conditions, know that we are with them, that we are interconnected that we are all members of the same family, our Human Family. For me this reason is enough to devote my ministry to enhance the collaboration among the branches of our family.