It all started with a couch.
Rev. Richard Sliwinski, pastor of St. Mary Czestochowa Parish in Middletown, was visiting his mother in Konin, Poland, just as Russia began the invasion of Ukraine. Due to her medical issues, Fr. Richard’s mother was in need of a hospital bed, and in order to make room for it, a couch had to be removed. Fr. Richard asked around if anyone could use it, and a local priest knew a family that could. Thus began Fr. Richard’s relationship with Ivan Volvin. Ivan is a Ukrainian Catholic who emigrated to Poland some 12 years ago, and still maintains close communications with family and friends he left behind. Since their meeting Fr. Richard has been in almost daily contact with him in order to find ways to help the close to 2,000 displaced Ukrainians who have taken refuge in Konin.
Ivan gave Fr. Richard a ribbon with the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which Fr. Richard placed around a candle on the altar of St. Mary’s, and asked the parishioners to pray for peace in the Ukraine. He also initiated a Holy Hour of Devotion – Prayer for Peace, which was attended by Bishop Cote, Rev. Sergiy Emanuel, a Ukrainian priest for Brooklyn, N.Y., Fr. Peter Buczek (Archdiocese of Hartford), Fr. Martin Jones, Fr. Mark Curesky and more than 200 others.
Then things began to happen. The first Sunday after this, the parish raised $3,700, and to date they have raised more than $13,000. Fr. Richard has sent some funds directly to Ivan, who has dispersed it to support Ukrainian refugee students who are now attending the middle school in Konin, Szkola Podstawowa nr 4 – Gustawa Morcinka. The funds were used to buy clothing, medicine and school supplies for the Ukrainian students, as well as to aid their families with the basic necessities of daily living.
Fr. Richard has also contacted a missionary priest in Poland who frequently crosses the border from Poland and Ukraine. Through this priest, Fr. Richard has sent some funds to support a children’s hospital in Mielnickiem (Podole), Ukraine. The parishioners of St. Mary’s have also donated ten laptops and three tablets, which Fr. Richard will bring to Poland when he returns.
The children with their parents and staff of the regional school, St. John Paul II have also joined this effort. Principal Lawrence Fitzgerald said the students recite a special prayer for the Ukraine every morning; and thus far they have raised $2,150.They have collected socks, underwear and toiletries, plus over-the-counter medicine. Additionally, the school has offered 26 used laptops and 16 tablets to Ukraine students in Konin and Poznan, Poland.
Referencing the Ukrainian victims during his General Audience on March 16, Pope Francis said, “Christ is once more nailed to the Cross in mothers who mourn the unjust death of husbands and sons. He is crucified in refugees who flee from bombs with children in their arms.”
It is estimated that to date more than 2.8 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland. Some have left for other countries, but about 2 million have remained, not living in refugee camps, but taken into the private homes of the Polish people. The parishioners of St. Mary of Czestochowa Church, and families of St. John Paul II Regional School have shown true Christian charity in aiding helpless victims of this atrocious Russian aggression against Ukraine. May peace prevail.
By Deacon Ben LoCasto