Poland’s Catholics dig deep to help Ukrainian refugees

Poland’s Catholics dig deep to help Ukrainian refugees.

A Caritas volunteer in Przemyśl, eastern Poland. / Philipp Spalek/Caritas.

Warsaw, Poland, Mar 22, 2022 / 06:45 am (CNA).

Poland’s Catholics are engaging in an unprecedented effort to help the more than 2 million people who have arrived in the country after fleeing fighting in Ukraine.

Caritas Poland, the country’s largest charity, said on March 21 that it had collected a record sum of around $20 million, sent more than 500 aid trucks to Ukraine, and organized thousands of meals a day for refugees.

Father Marcin Iżycki, the charity’s director, said: “Nearly 47,000 meals a day are served to refugees at the over 130 Caritas outlets. Almost half a million people have already benefited from this form of assistance.”

Poland, a majority Catholic Central European country of 38 million people, shares a 332-mile border with Ukraine, a predominantly Eastern Orthodox nation with a pre-war population of 44 million.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, Poland had seen an influx of 2,113,554 people from Ukraine as of March 21, receiving around 60% of Europe’s largest wave of refugees since the Second World War.

Doors wide open

Catholic churches across Poland held collections for Ukrainian refugees on Feb. 27 and Ash Wednesday, March 2. A record-breaking amount of more than 32 million złoty (around $7.5 million) was collected. Funds also poured in through bank transfers and the donation system on Caritas Poland’s website.

Almost all of Poland’s 10,000 Catholic parishes are supporting refugees, who are being housed in Church buildings, monasteries and convents, seminaries, and Caritas centers.

Ukrainian families have also found shelter in the residences of Poland’s bishops, including the Bishop’s Palace in Kraków, where the future Pope John Paul II lived from 1958 to 1978.

More than 100 people, including 50 children, are staying at the pilgrim’s house and “halls” at Jasna Góra, Poland’s largest shrine, which houses the venerated icon known as the “Black Madonna.”

Housing, meals, and cell phone cards

Almost 1,000 convents in Poland are offering spiritual, psychological, medical, and material assistance to refugees, alongside nearly 100 in Ukraine.

Refugees are being housed at 469 convents in Poland and 74 in Ukraine. So far 2,824 children, 2,299 families, and around 2,860 adults are being given shelter. At 64 institutions, there are 602 places for orphans, and at 420 institutions there are almost 3,000 spaces for mothers with children.

Men’s religious orders are offering assistance at 156 locations, welcoming 738 families (a total of 3,630 people, including 1,483 children).

More than 300 parish houses of religious and pastoral ministries have taken in over 300 families (1,333 people in total, including 518 children.)

Four centers run by religious have welcomed 61 disabled people, including 37 children.

The conference of major superiors of male religious orders in Poland has distributed more than 1,500 prepaid cell phone cards for Ukrainian refugees, in cooperation with the telecommunications firm Orange Polska.

Religious communities are serving thousands of meals a day, with male congregations alone providing around 5,000 meals.

Religious institutions are also providing care and activities for Ukrainian children, as well as English-language courses. Children are also being admitted to religious congregations’ kindergartens and schools.

In some places, legal and psychological help is also being provided, as well as translation of documents necessary to seek employment.

Trucks and cars packed with aid

Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Polish bishops’ team for aid to the Church in the east has organized aid shipments.

Some 147 trucks and 180 buses have been sent to Ukraine with aid with an estimated total value of around $6 million.

Shipments are also being organized by religious congregations and Catholic communities, movements, and associations. At least 34 cars from men’s religious houses have departed for Ukraine, carrying humanitarian aid.

Caritas Poland director Father Iżycki said: “In Poland, Caritas organizes humanitarian transports to Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, we have sent about half a thousand trucks and buses. We estimate the value of this aid at 35 million złoty [around $8 million].”

Polish clergy serving in Ukraine have remained with their flocks. There are about 700 priests (including 170 religious priests and three bishops who are religious). In addition, 21 brothers and 332 sisters of Polish religious congregations are based in Ukraine.

Coordinating aid from abroad

The Church in Poland is also helping to coordinate aid from outside the country. Caritas Poland is cooperating closely with Caritas Europa and Caritas Internationalis, as well as parallel Church organizations in Italy, Germany, and the United States.

Caritas Poland has also begun talks with the U.N. refugee agency about cash assistance that would be provided in dioceses.

Father Iżycki, the charity’s director, said: “As of today, Caritas Poland has collected 83 million zloty [around $20 million], out of which 38 million [almost $9 million] comes from collections in churches and parishes and will remain in diocesan Caritas organizations for their local work. It’s a record amount in the history of Caritas Poland.”

“On my part, I would like to cordially thank all the individual contributors, volunteers, employees — all those engaged in the work that we uphold in response to the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War, taking place so close to us.”

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