Although the initial wave of alarm has faded, the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic has not gone away. In the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, official figures for the number of people infected are relatively low; however, the real numbers are much higher, given that these countries do not have access to reliable testing methods. In Ukraine, the healthcare system is altogether inadequate, and most of the patients themselves have to bring in their own medicines, bandage material, and basic medical equipment when they go into hospital.
The priests are continuing to serve people’s most urgent spiritual needs, celebrating funerals, visiting the sick and elderly, hearing confessions and giving the last sacraments. This means of course that, after medical personnel, they are among those most at risk of infection. So far in Ukraine, seven priests have been diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus and one of them has died at the age of 55.
ACN International is supporting the heroic work of these Ukrainian priests during the pandemic and is helping to supply essential basic personal protection equipment for over 2740 priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and around a thousand members of religious congregations – masks, gloves, disinfectant and so forth, in order to protect them in their work and help prevent the spread of the disease. A second similar project will provide help for some 738 priests and 92 seminarians of the Latin rite in Ukraine.
During the Easter liturgies, only around 2% of believers attended the liturgies inside the churches, while the rest followed via social media. At the present time, the number of those participating in Holy Mass inside the churches is limited to just ten people. But although the Catholic Church and her priests, both of the Latin rite and the Byzantine rite, have taken the government restrictions extremely seriously, no priest can neglect the health of souls.
And so, while closely observing the necessary preventative and protection measures, many priests have increased the number of Masses they are celebrating and are remaining constantly available in their churches throughout the day, in order to be able to attend to the needs of individual members of the faithful “who desire to receive the sacraments of confession or Holy Communion”, as Father Mikolay Leskiv, a Catholic priest of the Latin rite from Chervonograd, explains.
“During these difficult times we have to care all the more for our faithful and provide for their spiritual needs on the path of salvation, but at the same time, we have to guarantee their safety inside the churches. And so, regardless of the high prices, which have increased tenfold or more since the outbreak of the pandemic, I purchased a bottle of liquid disinfectant which is placed at the entrance to the church for people to disinfect their hands with, and another for the priest who distributes Holy Communion and which is kept close to the Tabernacle. I have also purchased face masks for those members of the faithful who can’t afford to do so themselves. But our resources are very limited”, he continues.
The period of lockdown and strict quarantine is expected to come to an end before long; however, the requirement to use face masks will continue for months. So they are hoping that the material supplied with the aid of ACN will last until August.
The emergency ACN aid package in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Ukraine also includes support for the apostolate of 150 religious sisters in 24 different religious communities within the diocese of Kamyanets Podilskij. Currently, the diocese is having enormous difficulty in maintaining them financially, despite the great work that they are doing, helping in the parishes, orphanages, and hospitals, owing to the continuing Covid-19 restrictions and the resulting economic crisis.
At this time especially, thousands of people have been affected by unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, and the lack of any future prospects and many have given up hope, especially among young people. The government is not paying sufficient attention to these problems and so the priests and religious are now some of the first to be turned to for comfort and advice by the hundreds of people who feel the need for someone to talk to in confidence. At the same time, they are also frequently becoming local “leaders” within their communities, encouraging and motivating people to organize support groups for those in greatest need, for the sick, and for healthcare workers.
The three projects funded by ACN aimed at helping and protecting these “physicians of souls” will cost a combined total of 165,400 Euros.