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19 May 2022

DAY: 19th April 2022 – EASTER TUESDAY

The Eucharist with the Sisters of Kharkiv is a precious time of prayer, thanksgiving and song that expresses hope and life.

I was very moved by my encounter with them. During the morning we used up the time until the last second in sharing what we had lived through. The sisters needed to tell me what they have been through. The panic, the fear, the haunting sound of the bombs, the uncertainty, the resistance to leave until the last moment, an exodus without time to think, and the presence of the pastor, of the bishop making their way on an unsafe road to reach them and to celebrate the Eucharist and to comfort and shelter. Community dialogues with a diversity of opinions. Doubts, and prayer to ask for light. The bishop made a statement that left everyone in shock: tomorrow, first thing in the morning, you have to leave, danger is imminent (the day before they had decided to stay despite the danger). But a short time later, it was even more pressing and without possible discussion. “In an hour the cars will be at the door and you have to get out.” Consume the Blessed Sacrament and collect what is strictly essential… And a journey of insecurity in trying to avoid danger zones. How much anguish in reaching a safe zone, including one of the two cars getting lost and the anxiety until they met up again. Hours of waiting at the border and, finally, leaving behind the land that has been home for a lifetime for the eight sisters from Ukraine, and so many years for the three from Poland, and the sister from Slovakia. Everything forced them to this departure when the news of the atrocities of the unscrupulous Chechen and Russian army arrived. (In all the chronicle of these days I have omitted unnecessary details that my ears and heart will never forget.)

I listen, moved to tears. And in the meantime they honour me with Easter songs and with a joy that makes me cry, without understanding how so much pain and such boundless life is possible. There is so much joy that I perceive in them because of my visit, and for my presence in these days of more uncertainty, and the great joy I have in their gratitude. Tears come to the mother’s eyes as she is telling us. The same for the sisters.

They asked me if I had a word to say to them to help them live through this time. I told them that YES is the most important word, pronounced in the land of the present, wherever it may be. That John of the Cross and Teresa of Jesus lived the most fruitful moments of their lives in the most inhospitable and most persecuted times, of extreme fragility. That before arriving at the promised land God wishes to give them, he asks them to give. This time that they are in is now a privileged one of covenant and surrender. We have come to Carmel to give our lives. And we never imagined where the Lord might take us, but we know that wherever we go, He will be our home and our infinite comfort. Carmel is reborn in the hours of maximum poverty.

The President of the Federation was present, who has been a mother to them, preparing everything. Also present was the Provincial of the Sisters of St. Joseph who welcomed them in this place that they had prepared, precisely to welcome families of Ukrainian refugees. God’s providence.

We exchanged some details. And, above all, such sincere hugs, so necessary in this hour of uncertain cold. I was given a beautiful statue of the Virgin of Ukraine that I now have next to my bed.

We bid farewell with a blessing. I blessed them, and I felt blessed in them. They said goodbye in the street with guitar and drum, so full of joy that I would not want to leave them. The whole of Carmel has been delighted in this communion of fraternity. And all of Ukraine can be certain that the whole of Carmel is praying relentlessly and without respite that Peace be made.

Before leaving Częstochowa, we paid a visit to the sisters there in this city, who were so eagerly waiting in the church for a blessing. Avery rapid and very joyful visit.

My journey through the lands of Ukraine and Poland ends. I will never forget what I have experienced. A wound has been opened within that I do not want ever to heal. I have a hard time digesting it all, and the helplessness of what I have seen leaves me speechless within. I allowed myself to go through without fear of hearing, seeing, feeling, crying, being indignant… and I allowed myself to be embraced by those whom I was going to comfort. I have embraced friars who seemed strong and comforted many and they needed to be comforted and sustained, and I allowed myself to give thanks for their gaze. I blessed a young soldier who asked me to pray for him before going to the front and I was disarmed by the smile of a young woman who had lost everything she had in her house in Mariupol.

Thank you for accompanying me on this terrible journey to the heart of the war. We are all at war. And together we need each other. We must be prepared with the weapons of light, let no one erase our smile and hope, it is the greatest treasure I bring from Ukraine. They are not poor massacred people, they are a people that will rise from their ashes because they have Faith and in their wound, they awaken us all to live and to stand up.

Thank you for your prayers. My last word is the gratitude of the ordinary people, of the friars, of the nuns and the sisters, the smiles of the children and the kisses of the grandmothers squeezing my hands tightly and kissing them. Their thanks to all of you. They know that you will continue, that we will remain by their side no matter what. And goodness will overcome horror and cruelty. I promise you.

God bless us all. “Peace be with you, it is I. Do not be afraid,” says Jesus, “Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”