From the Front Lines of Ukraine: Friar Provides a Firsthand Account, Acknowledges Overwhelming Generosity of HNP Supporters as Franciscan Relief Fund Tops $700,000

HNP Communications HNPNow

The Franciscan Relief Fund has reached a significant milestone in its continuing efforts to provide assistance to our brother friars in Ukraine who are ministering to the homeless and refugees of the war-torn country. Last week, the fund surpassed the $700,000 mark. The appreciation of this humanitarian response from 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean is beyond what words can describe, according to one of the friars on the front lines.

“This gesture of generosity is unimaginable and very humbling. As members of this huge global Franciscan family, there is great comfort in knowing that we are not alone. There are really no words to describe our gratitude – but how wonderful to see God operate through people who are sensitive, open – and generous!” Emanuel Sabadak, OFM, a member of the Ukraine-Poland Franciscan Province of St. Michael the Archangel, said in an email response to questions posed by HNP NOW.

“The brothers in the United States are always in touch with difficult realities – and they and the donors to the Franciscan Relief Fund have demonstrated that there are no obstacles or situations too impossible to overcome when we face them together. This is the Gospel at work: Do not abandon your brother and sister who is suffering – the Lord will be your reward!” said Emanuel, who noted that the fund has gone a long way toward helping the friars in Poland provide displaced Ukrainian citizens, mostly women and children, with shelter, food, and transportation.

“Something that the president of Poland said has stuck with me – that the Ukrainian people are not refugees there, but rather their guests. For our friars, they are our brothers and sisters,” continued Emanuel, who said the monies from the Franciscan Relief Fund are also being used to purchase the most important necessities for the homeless and displaced citizens who have remained in Ukraine – basic necessities such as groceries, baby food, medicine, personal hygiene items, and clothing, the latter an important commodity since Ukrainians have experienced three seasons since the start of the conflict (winter when it began, and spring and summer as it progressed).

None of this would be possible, he said, without the overwhelming generosity of donors and supporters of the Franciscan Relief Fund.

David Convertino, OFM, said the hope was to raise $100,000 to $200,000 for Ukrainian relief through the fund. “But our supporters and friends – along with the help of our brother US-6 provinces around the country – have truly demonstrated their Franciscan hearts with this remarkable display of generosity that has enabled us to far exceed our humble expectations,” said David, director of HNP’s Development Office.

“Franciscans never beg for themselves; we beg for others so that we can provide to those most in need,” added David, who said the Franciscan Relief Fund was established more than two years ago at the height of the pandemic to assist unemployed hotel workers, Broadway stagehands, and restaurant servers struggling with food insecurity. At the time, he said the fund would be an ongoing initiative of the Development Office to address the needs of people during health crises, military conflict, and natural or human-caused disasters.

Emanuel reported that friars in Poland have also been able to help Ukrainian migrants find employment, and they have organized social and fellowship events between Polish citizens and the migrants so that they can share stories, spend time together, and engage in singing and other normal daily activities. In addition to celebrating Mass for Ukrainians in their Ukraine language, the friars have connected Ukrainian members of the Eastern Catholic branch of the Catholic Church to Masses with Greek-Orthodox priests.

Emanuel was asked how the friars on the ground are holding up – those on the front lines, answering the call of God’s people in the midst of chaos, bombs, death, uncertainty, and deplorable conditions.

“From the beginning, back in February when this all started, we didn’t have time to think about it or develop a strategy. People were in desperate need of food. Somebody had to help them. As Jesus says in the Gospel, ‘Feed them,’” Emanuel said.

He continued, “No brother has left Ukraine – none of the brothers of our own province or the Byzantine brothers. At the beginning, there was fear. But you get used to the bombs and sirens. The reality is that danger is everywhere, bombings are in cities all throughout Ukraine. There is no longer one area safer than another. People have gotten so accustomed to the sirens that they sometimes ignore the warning and pay for this mistake with their life. As friars, our purpose and mission keep us going psychologically. Spiritually, we are motivated by the surety that the Lord gives strength, resources and protection to whom he loves.”

One day when Emanuel was crossing the city of Zhytomyr, which was hit heavily by Russian forces, he noticed an ambulance destroyed by the shelling – and from what remained of the license plate, he came to realize that it was a humanitarian gift from Italy. On the body of the ambulance was an inscription to the Ukrainian people that read: “We can’t give you peace, but we offer you our hearts.”