Arriving on mission in Kryvyj Rih – a town in eastern Ukraine where people from all over the country once came in search of prosperity – I did not expect that the greatest wealth of this place would be the poor.
People often ‘paid’ dearly for their relocation in search of better jobs that separated them from their families, traditions and often also from their faith. At present, the oligarchic power, the prolonged war with Russia in the east of the country and the bitter fruits of communist ‘atheisation’ make life unbearable for many people, hence the great wave of emigration. Our community of three sisters is located in the poorest part of the city. The material poverty and the life ‘without God’ are two things that immediately caught my attention. The parish in which we work with the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette is not very big, but we also have other “parishioners” … precisely, poor people who come to us all the time. Two days a week (thanks to donors from Poland), we distribute bread for 300 to 400 people. Each encounter with them means so much to me, it is truly touching the wounds of Christ. There are so many holy stories hidden under the garment of poverty and the abyss of sin! Amongst the alcoholics and others who somehow ‘choose’ this life, there are elderly men who have worked hard all their lives and now have a meagre pension; there are also men in the prime of their lives who cannot provide for their families because of unworthy pay for work done. They weep because they can finally eat bread to their heart’s content and sometimes also because of “what they have become” – having to beg for bread… Sometimes they lie or intercede for their relatives and fight for more bread.
However, many also want to give us a gift in gratitude – how delightful, a few sweets or nuts received out of an excess of gratitude from those who do not have enough for bread! “Bless you, bless you…” they repeat like a refrain – “The very fact that I can see you gives me so much”, “Thank you for being here. An encounter with you makes me feel lighter”, “God bless you and all your family!”
I look them in the eye. I listen to their call, which urges me to convert my heart and warns me against wasting the grace of time and the grace of sacrifice in order to grow in love and do good. Again and again I fail and do not know how to serve them… How to serve Him…
Sr Anna Żelazna, f.m.m.
Province of Central and Eastern Europe