At Ukraine border, papal envoy denounces hospital bombing

Cardinal Michael Czerny at the Vatican press office on Feb. 12, 2020 Cardinal Michael Czerny at the Vatican press office on Feb. 12, 2020. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

A papal envoy to Ukraine has denounced the bombing of a pediatric hospital in the city of Mariupol.

Vatican Cardinal Michael Czerny, who was at the border between Hungary and Ukraine when he received the news, said: “Bombing and hospital: these two words in the same sentence already make you shudder.”

Czerny referred to the response of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who described the March 9 bombardment of a maternity and children’s hospital in the city in southeastern Ukraine as “unacceptable.”

According to the Mariupol city council, a Russian airstrike killed at least three people, including a child, and wounded at least 17 doctors, children, and pregnant women.

“Cardinal Parolin is right; it’s unacceptable. We must stop these attacks on civilians,” Czerny said.

Czerny, who was born in the then Czechoslovakia before his family moved to Canada, is the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

He and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski were sent this week to Ukraine by Pope Francis.

Krajewski, who is in charge of the pope’s charitable efforts, visited the western Ukrainian city of Lviv after first stopping in his native Poland.

Both cardinals are visiting Ukraine to help refugees fleeing the conflict. The U.N. refugee agency estimates that more than 2.3 million Ukrainians have fled the country in the two weeks since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

Krajewski, the papal almoner, told Vatican News on March 9 that he was in Lviv.

“Here, every five minutes I see refugees arriving from the eastern part of Kyiv,” the cardinal said. “They are mostly women with children. Some want to enter Poland, they want to stay close to the border, but there are those who have moved here to Lviv — there is no war here yet, even though it is very dangerous — and they are waiting for liberation, they are waiting to return.”

Lviv “is where large amounts of aid from the European community arrive via Poland. Everything is unloaded in large warehouses, and from here the trucks leave for Kyiv, for Odesa, for the south of the country,” he said.

Krajewski added that, fortunately, “all this aid is still reaching its destination, despite the bombings.”

The pope’s charity office has also helped pay for fuel for trucks bringing humanitarian aid into Ukraine, the papal almoner said.

“Wherever there is a bit of space, everything is occupied by refugees who pray, who have hope, who really thank the European community that is bringing them so many donations, that is close to them, that prays for them,” he noted.

According to Vatican News, Czerny visited the western Ukrainian town of Berehove, on the border with Hungary. There, he witnessed the struggle between poor refugees and their compatriots who would seek to take advantage of them.

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Some Ukrainians are offering fake medical certificates of poor health to Ukrainian men kept inside the country by martial law. Some are also offering transport to Budapest at inflated prices, especially to women who are afraid of being trafficked if they take a Hungarian bus.

Czerny said that “trafficking is a real problem, a tragedy within a tragedy that feeds on humanitarian crises.”

At a meeting between Czerny and local religious leaders, Bishop Mykola Luchok, auxiliary bishop of the Latin Rite Diocese of Mukachevo, described the violence in Ukraine as “a genocide.”

“For our people, it is a Via Crucis and many are ready to go to Golgotha. Ukrainians are not running away; they are not giving up; we want to defend the values of freedom, truth, human dignity,” Luchok said, according to Vatican News.

Czerny said that the papal envoys’ presence in Ukraine “is a double response, one of immediate charity and one of integral human development in the long term. A commitment that will last through the ages.”

He underlined Pope Francis’ commitment to do everything possible to promote peace. “If you have any idea of what can be done, do not hesitate to make a suggestion,” he said.

In addition to lay volunteers of Caritas and other groups assisting refugees, religious congregations and Catholic organizations present in Ukraine and other European countries are opening their arms to those fleeing the conflict.

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Father Mychaylo Chaban, provincial of the Salesians’ “Mary Help of Christians” Vice Province of Ukraine, told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian partner agency, that “the situation continues to be tragic. We are preparing for even more difficult times.”

“We do not know how long this war will continue, and so we must be ready for even a long period... There are so many victims among the soldiers, but also among the civilian population,” the priest said.

“The whole world is waiting for immediate decisions to stop the aggressor. Throughout Ukraine there is danger of bombing. Today our capital, Kyiv, is suffering a lot, as well as the areas bordering Russia. People are fleeing their homes.”

Since 2018, the Italy-based Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation has also been present in Ukraine, where it has established a “House of Mercy,” in which until a few weeks ago it housed a hundred minors with predominantly intellectual disabilities, both in an overnight residence and day program.

Tetyana Dubyna, the president of the reception center, said that currently the house was hosting three staff members, 30 minor residents, and 40 adults with children.

Describing the living situation in southwestern Ukraine, where the foundation is located, she said: “Those who live in the surrounding countryside are unable to move and remain in their homes. Petrol has run out, water supplies are scarce, stores are closed or without supplies, and there are long queues at pharmacies.”

“Underground bunkers have been prepared to take refuge in case of need. The internet works only intermittently, the telephone lines do not seem to be giving any problems. The worst of times awaits us.”