For the rest of my life, I will never forget this Sunday of the Resurrection. Never.
Life dawns. And more on a day like today, Easter Day. But this life was born to us in the ordeal of the Cross, and has become a light in the empty tomb.
At 8.00 in the morning begins the celebration of the Eucharist in our parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Kiev, with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament around the parish. It was very cold, but the small church is full. The procession is a metaphor for life itself. We sing joy and trust in His Resurrection in the midst of death. In the celebration there are several soldiers and policemen in uniform who live this time intensely.
Father Benedict presided and the priest Maciej preached, whose organization PRO SPE travels almost every week to Ukraine for humanitarian aid. His words and his presence are also a gift of ecclesial communion these days.
At the end of the Mass, very heartfelt thanks from the people. They give me a sweatshirt that says “Long live Ukraine”, and some yellow flowers. Two lay people from the parish thanked me for the courage to come as the shepherd in the midst of the sheep in danger and they were thankful for the lives of these Carmelites who have stayed to accompany and care for the people. They tell us that they too need everyone’s care and support to continue to support and encourage others. They sang me a moving song that said “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” I thanked them warmly for their precious, sincere speech and expressed my pride in my brothers, for their dedication and for being here. I named each of them and gave thanks for their lives. I blessed the lives of all present. I will never forget this Easter Sunday. At the end I gave them a gift: a relic of St. Therese and her parents, Zelie and Luis, and also of Mariam of Bethlehem, invoking a blessing on all of them, their families and the families who have suffered some important loss these days, so that Therese may shed light on the night of our days and so that Mariam may make us live the God of life in humility and the nothingness of the empty tomb, the fullness of mercy. They celebrated the gift with great joy.
After Mass, I was blessed with their hugs and smiles All greeted me with the Easter greeting in Ukrainian.
We had breakfast, which here is like a meal. In fact, today we will have our next meal around six in the evening.
And so, Benedict, Jozef, Maciej, Bogdan (volunteer friend) and I set off on our way to very significant and terrifying places.
We first visited the major seminary of Kiev (Worzel), which is in a forest, in the countryside, a few kilometres from the city, and were received by the rector, Father Ruslan, young, thin, with cassock and fleece jacket, together with some volunteers and people who work with him in humanitarian aid to families. The seminary was looted by the Russians and they took everything they wanted. A cluster bomb had fallen in the courtyard of the seminary, the effects of which shocked us. Some pieces of shrapnel entered through the windows and hit the stature of the Virgin Mary of Fatima, tearing off the head. We checked the hole in the yard left by the bomb and its destructive power.
Father Ruslan and other volunteers accompanied us throughout the day to the next place, which is the camp in the forest of the Russians responsible for the Bucha massacres. We carefully entered among the trees. We found everything as they had left it 15 days ago; trenches dug into the ground, temporary installations. Everything left us absolutely perplexed and with our soul pierced by unanswered questions: How can human beings reach such atrocity in the middle of the year 2022? It is not a film, it is not a black and white report from the 1942s, it is not a biography that speaks about Auschwitz. The Russians left here a fortnight ago and just thinking about it makes my hair stand on end. There is fruit in the boxes, a coffee maker, hanging socks, empty vodka bottles, boots on the floor, Russian boxes containing food, vitamin pills, etc. etc. We trod on this ground carefully in case they had left mines; but we wanted to see and be witnesses to be able to tell the world what we had seen. A true story and not science fiction. The soul shrank, indignant, as if pierced by a cluster bomb from head to toe. My god! How is this possible? From here they went to neighboring villages and did atrocities. From here they received from their superiors the task of freely doing whatever they wanted. I spoke to Jozef, thinking out aloud: each one of them too would have had a mother and sisters and grandparents and children. So how can life be hurt to such an extent…? We remained silent and prayed. We embarked on the path of horror through the streets of Borodzianka, Bucha and Irpin. I cannot describe in words what we saw. You are going to see some photos, and I ask you not to look away, because this film is real and the victims deserve that we do look, that we wake up and that our life becomes conscious. Shattered tanks, burnt houses, ruined buildings, emptied hospitals, a sinister, demonic spectacle… bridges destroyed, cars overturned. And the feeling of being privileged and stunned witnesses that the Hitlers and the Stalins, the Mussolinis and the Pinochets, the Gaddafis have not disappeared from the human scene, although it is hard for us to believe it. Just think, an immense mass filled with enthusiasm cheered Hitler and greeted him as the savior. Please, I will not stand anyone justifying this horror with ideological goodness of whatever type there may be.
In the heart of Bucha, where the bodies of 98 people shot in the streets were deposited, we prayed, overcome, at the site of the mass grave. And from right here we send our message of Easter greetings to the entire Order. In this empty and royal tomb, Jozef, Benedict, also Marek who remained in the parish, and I, express the communion of the entire Ukrainian Carmel with the whole Order.
Next to a door, on the ground where there was the corpse of an old man, they had placed some yellow flowers. We prayed to Mary and we prayed for everyone. Christ has overcome death. Christ is risen. They are not here, they are already in the house of life. They enjoy the Peace of God in their home which has no end.
I embraced Ruslan, the young rector who had accompanied us so kindly, and who has been in contact with all the leading figures and with families of the victims and we assured each other that we would pray for one another. I told him that Carmel will pray for the 25 seminarians of Kiev and for him. A very heartfelt hug.
We set out on our way to the parish of a Dehonian priest, Tadeusz, who has stayed in the most difficult of times in Irpin, one of the massacred cities. He showed us his chapel, dedicated to St. Therese. We gave him a fireplace to heat the parish, which we carried all day in Maciej’s van.
We returned home in time for an Argentine radio program. We also visited Veronica and Alexander, members of the Secular Carmel in Kiev. They received us with such affection in their humble house also damaged by a cluster bomb. Veronica speaks enthusiastically about the Secular Carmel and gives us some gifts, and a book published in Ukrainian with passages from the Saints of Carmel, from the little published in Ukrainian about our saints. They infected us with their enthusiasm. We prayed for the entire Secular Carmel in Kiev and in Ukraine.
We returned to the parish. It is very late. The curfew is at 10 pm. A very heartfelt hug by both parties.
I was very happy to see them comforted. I was very happy to have arrived in Kiev and let myself be touched by their witness and their paternal and fraternal presence with the ordinary people. They are a living sacrament of God’s unconditional closeness to every human being. God bless you, my brethren. I feel proud. And I said goodbye wishing them, in Polish, encouragement and courage.
We left Kiev with difficulty. The GPS did not know about barricades and closed streets. After a while we managed to get out of the city. We had little petrol, only for about 40 km., and we have about 150 to go. Jozef prays to the Holy Spirit who, he says, never fails him. We passed many closed gas stations. It is too late. I imagined sleeping in the car, but in passing one service station, we saw a small light and we got, not 20, but 30 litres. And the gentleman who was selling confided in Jozef, relating his feelings. When finished, he made a gesture of prayer with his hands.
Before we could arrive, there were many military checkpoints. They ask us for documentation. We recited Vespers and Compline. We prayed for all the people we have met, and we plead with God for peace and an end to so much evil. Our journey takes us almost four hours since leaving for Gwozdawa; a quiet house in the countryside, in which the friars celebrate daily with the village, of about one hundred inhabitants.
We were welcomed by Maksymilian, the superior. It is very late, past 11 p.m., and the day has been exhausting, impressive, overwhelming.
The Risen Christ heals the land of Ukraine, heals its wounds. Heal our world.