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16 May 2022

DAY:16th April 2022 – HOLY SATURDAY

It is a day of silence, an overwhelming experience of deep emptiness, in the wounded warmth of Mary, the Mother; in the hearts of all mothers, who represent the watchful soul of the world, and who always harbour hope, in the midst of so much pain. How overwhelming is today, like an abyss of silence, which contains something that we do not yet know, and that is always sprouting! And that will dawn… it always dawns.

It is eight minus a few minutes in the morning in Berdichev, and we greeted the Lord and his Mother in the basilica. We prepared for the trip to Kiev.

I will be taken by Vitaly and his brother Olek. It is a three-hour journey, but it depends on the traffic and the difficulties on entering. We dealt with some of the controls without difficulty.

They told us that some rockets had fallen on Kiev.

Voices of friendly people from Spain and other corners of the earth arrived with news of danger in Kiev…

We stopped to have a coffee, and to get petrol. Only 20 litres of petrol can be bought at a time, but the girl attending us is from the parish and we can fill the tank. In addition, Vitaly is “famous” for knowing where to go.

All the way, our conversation continued to be very lively.

As we approached Kiev, we saw the horrors of war: tanks, trucks, houses, buildings, burnt and shelled, as if emptied of their soul. Houses and remains of vehicles that smelt of a desolate, lifeless Holy Saturday, with no apparent resurrection.

We take a detour to enter Kiev, avoiding the main road. About another 30 km.

We arrived at our parish in Kiev, and were greeted by Jozef. What a great joy to embrace him! What a joy to have arrived and be here! Marek is here, the parish priest and prior. And also Benedict, who is in charge of humanitarian aid and care for the soldiers: our three Carmelites at present in Kiev. A Polish priest who has an international organization and brings humanitarian aid to Ukraine is here today: Maciej. And also staying since the destruction of their village, a father and a son: Andrzej and Daniel.

Much joy in meeting with the friars and lunch with Jozef and Marek, reporting on many things about the war and the pastoral work during these weeks. Marek talked about the horrors of war and showed photos of the bunkers; care for the sick, and intense activity as a parish priest. For some time this was the only Catholic parish in Kiev. When Mother Teresa of Calcutta came, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, she asked to be able to go to Mass and was brought to our church. It is a small and cozy church. I accompanied Jozef to bless the food, which is a typical custom here: the first Easter foods, sweets, Easter eggs and other things. Swieta brought Easter eggs for the friars. She gave me a very affectionate hug and asked for a blessing.

We went out to see the Bishop of Kiev, Vitaly, who received us in a simple place; he is young, very cordial. Very informal conversation. He thanked me very much for being here and was very grateful for the pastoral service and dedication of the Carmelites in Ukraine. It was an hour of discussion about the situation and the Church in Ukraine. I spoke to him of the prayer of all of Carmel, right throughout the whole world: our prayer for him and for the Ukrainian Church and people.

Jozef asked me if I had anything to give to the Bishop, and as I went out I said to the Lord, “Let’s see… and what can I give him if I no longer have anything special left in my backpack…” While talking to the bishop, I was thinking and put my hand in my bag to discover that I had a relic of St. Therese, of her hair. I gave it to him and he told us that she is his favorite saint… The surprises of the Lord!

We take a walk through the city center, the famous Maidan Square, the Independence Square of Ukraine, where, in 2014, 98 people were shot dead. We visit the place for remembering the fallen and prayed for them.

We returned home, visiting on the way some places destroyed by rockets…

We prayed for the people who inhabited those now desolate buildings.

It is time to prepare for the Vigil…

United in emotion with the whole Order, as we approached this night.

Let us remember Syria, Burkina, Peru, Colombia, Congo, Lebanon, Iraq…

Let us pray as ONE only… for LIFE THAT DOES NOT DIE nor any bomb is capable of destroying….

This arrival in Kiev is another chapter, different from Berdichev… because here the horrors of war feel even more evident… the signs are smoldering, and people’s stories are constant… I cannot tell in this chronicle everything I have heard. Some of the friars would ask me if I minded them telling me about those horrors, and I told them I did not mind… there have been very long periods of conversation. I omit details. They are in contact with the chaplains who accompany the soldiers, and they themselves have confessed the soldiers. I have given them about three hundred rosaries for the soldiers.

The celebration of the vigil, simple and heartfelt. The chapel looked to me like a small Noah’s ark, an enclosure of salvation. The liturgy began in the street with a simple fire, and an icy cold. After several attempts, we barely managed to keep the flame of the candle alight.

I preached, and Jozef translated into Ukrainian.

At the end of the celebration, songs and shared joy. A long line of people for a hug, a blessing, and to thank me very warmly that I am here. A young woman told me that there used to be 400 people at her work and that 200 had fled to safety in a secure place, and that the fact that I had come was a special sign for her. Thus marriages and families went by to be blessed and embraced. I did not seem to be in a place of war, there was a very strong sense of communion and complicity… A young woman who has lost her home in Mariupol is now helping others… a young soldier who asked me for my blessing before going to the front. I gave him my rosary.

And the day ends in friendly conversation, spending a span of two hours with Jozef, Marek, Benedict, the priest Maciej, and father and son, Andrzej and Daniel. What an intense time of lived experiences. How much need they had of telling what they have lived through  what they know… how much they appreciated my presence. I told them that the whole Order was here with them.

The day ends, tomorrow we will go to visit Bucha, the city of the massacre. As well as some other of the most devastated cities, the seminary and other places. But tomorrow will be another day, a today with the people of Kiev; the risen Lord Jesus appeared to me, smiling, and blessed me with his smile… a young woman blessed me spontaneously.

In Berdichev I heard the sirens five times, in Kiev once, as I left the bishop’s house. But no one goes down to the bunkers anymore. If something falls, it will fall, if something happens, it will happen. But today, Christ has risen for me in the faith of a people, in their hope. How lucky I am to be here! And that you are here with me!