For seventeen years now ACN has been supporting the Orthodox children‘s hospice in Saint Petersburg, the first of its kind, founded in 2003 by the Orthodox priest Father Aleksandr Tkachenko. Prior to this, he had received a special formation in the United States as a hospital chaplain, and he could see that in Russia too there was an urgent need for better facilities for caring for incurably sick children and their families. Generally speaking, prior to this, children were simply sent home from the hospital when it was felt there was no hope for any further successful treatment of their condition. And so the families were simply left to cope entirely by themselves.
Initially, Father Alexander began small. Still a young priest at the time, he simply packed a car full of aid goods and visited the children and their families at home. But he could soon see that this was not enough, and so, working closely together with specialist doctors and psychologists, he founded the first-ever children‘s hospice in Saint Petersburg. Here not only were the sick children cared for by competent medical staff, but both they and their families were lovingly supported right round the clock. The help offered by the hospice ranges from a whole variety of different therapies aimed at improving the quality of life of the children, most of whom are suffering from incurable cancers, through to the loving effort to explore every imaginable way of giving joy and happiness to the children and enabling them to live as happy and normal as possible a childhood.
By the time they arrive in the hospice, many of these children are so accustomed to their own solitude, suffering, and isolation that it is sometimes difficult to motivate them to even open up to play or engage in other recreational activities. Social workers and specialists care for these children with loving sensitivity; doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, priests, and volunteer helpers all work together, hand in hand, to ease the heavy burden borne by these children and their parents. In all this, the pastoral aspect is And with Your Spirit of crucial importance. „We don‘t preach to people as they lie in their beds, but in situations like these, it is the people themselves who come to us with many and very profound questions. As priests, we endeavor to help them to find some inner peace“, says Father Alexander. The hospital also supports those families who continue to care for their children at home, with medical, psychological, and pastoral support and counseling.
It has now been possible to open a second hospice in Moscow, and others have begun to imitate his example. Father Alexander, who is now Archpriest Alexander in recognition of his work, is today widely consulted as an expert in the field of hospice work.
His hospice has even been visited by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who was deeply impressed. Asked in an interview about an incident in his life that had particularly moved him, he spoke of his visit to Father Alexander‘s hospice. And on many other occasions, the patriarch has publicly praised this project.
For ACN this project is one of the most beautiful and successful examples of the fruitful and constructive collaboration it has helped to sponsor between the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia for almost 30 years now. And since the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba in February 2016 this collaboration has been still further intensified. To this end, an ecumenical working party was set up with a view on the one hand to identifying concrete projects to work on, and on the other to promote a regular exchange of ideas and experience between the two sister Churches. Father Alexander‘s children‘s hospice is a shining example of this practical collaboration on behalf of the poor and suffering, while at the same time he himself is frequently invited to speak at ecumenical conferences in the fields of ethics, hospice work, and the pastoral care of the sick.
But now, however, the building in Saint Petersburg in which the first children‘s hospice is still housed today is in need of extensive renovation. ACN is proposing to help with a contribution of 30,000 Euros.