“The most important mission of the church is to bring God to the people”
Many people in 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 Catholic church helps those in need by providing them with both pastoral and material aid.
The church should not get so wrapped up in its charitable commitments that it forgets that its primary focus needs to be on the salvation of the soul, the Roman Catholic bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporyzhya, Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, emphasised during an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Although many church organisations and initiatives have been set up in his diocese to help those in need through concrete measures and material aid, it is also 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 church in Ukraine, emphasised that people often expect the church to be able to provide them with all the material aid they need. He explained that even though the church is doing a great deal, it cannot assuage every material need. “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.”
According to the bishop, it is also important to teach the people to thank God and the benefactors who made the help they received possible and explained, “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. He believes that the church needs to “maintain the balance” and place the emphasis on the spiritual. For this reason, it is important to not only engage in charitable work but also build churches. For example, all the children’s homes in his diocese have a chapel. “The children go there to discuss their problems with God,” he reported, stressing just how important this is.
Last year, Aid to the Church in Need supported pastoral projects in Ukraine with a total of 4.4 million euros. 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 acquire vehicles for pastoral care.
Eva Maria Kolmann – ACN International