Aid volunteers supply refugees with beverages at the Przemyśl Główn train station in Poland Feb. 28. PHOTO BY PAKKIN LEUNG, Creative Commons

News

Catholics lending a hand to help Ukrainian refugees

Watching the Russian war against Ukraine from afar can leave one feeling powerless while witnessing the suffering of innocent Ukrainians enduring attacks or fleeing for their lives to other countries.

But Catholics in the Omaha archdiocese are finding ways to lend a hand and lighten the burdens of the Ukrainian people.

From special Sunday collections, to fundraising events, to collecting and shipping humanitarian supplies, Catholics are stepping up.

For Mike Conrad, a member of Knights of Columbus Council 10305 at St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Calhoun, watching the flow of millions of refugees into Poland and other Eastern European countries took on personal significance.

Ten years ago, as a member of the Supreme Council’s board of directors, he had helped establish the Knights of Columbus jurisdiction in Ukraine, so he personally knows men who are likely involved in the fighting and whose families have fled the country.

“We started thinking, we need to do something, because every day that number (of refugees) kept increasing,” Conrad said. “We thought, this is an opportunity to serve our fellow man.”

To help provide humanitarian relief, the Fort Calhoun council plans a fundraiser titled “We Stand With Ukraine,” which will include a dinner and auction at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish’s Mainelli Center in Omaha, May 20, from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Every $2,000 raised will provide food, clothing, medicine and housing for a family of four for six months, Conrad said.

All proceeds after expenses will go toward relief efforts, he said, and will be sent to the Supreme Council, with distribution to be coordinated through Knights councils in Poland and churches in Ukraine.

“To us, it’s a great opportunity to reach out to our own brother knights who are fighting for their freedom.” Conrad said.

Cost to attend is $60 per person. For tickets, to donate auction items or cash, or for more information, people can visit knightsforukraine.org.

Four years ago, the council sponsored a similar fundraiser titled “Rebuilding the Cradle of Christianity” to help resettle Iraqi refugees, whose lives had been upended by ISIS attacks. 

EVERYONE KNOWS SOMEONE

For parishioners of Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church in Omaha, viewing reports of death, destruction and displacement of Ukraine’s population is especially painful.

“Every single one of us has someone there,” said parishioner Mariana Khariv, who helps organize the parish’s relief efforts.

“Since the first days (of the war), our community has been trying to unite and do what we can,” she said.

These efforts have already included gathering and shipping body armor donated by National Guard units in Nebraska and Iowa as well as humanitarian aid such as medical supplies donated by individuals, the parish and area hospitals.

The parish has also held fundraisers, baking and selling traditional Ukrainian foods, Khariv said. She encourages people to periodically check the parish’s Facebook page for announcements of future fundraisers or other opportunities to help.

Donations can be mailed to Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church, 1513 Martha St., Omaha, NE 68108 (Ukrainian War Victim Relief Fund in the memo line). Donations can also be made through Venmo (@UkrCC Omaha). See their website for more details.

Khariv said she hopes people will continue to show their support for the people of Ukraine through their prayers and continued donations.

DIRECT ASSISTANCE

Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha is supporting one of its own, Jesuit Father Damian Czerniak, a former teacher who is providing direct assistance to refugees in Poland.

Prep students, families, alumni and friends are donating to a fund to support Father Czerniak, a native of Poland who is coordinating assistance to refugees in that country.

One-hundred percent of the donations are being routed through the Jesuits’ USA Midwest Province to the Jesuit Refugee Service in Poland.

In addition to the immediate needs of food, clothing, medicine and shelter, refugees also have longer term needs such as school placements, child care, transportation and jobs, along with psychological and spiritual support, according to a Prep news release.

Father Czerniak describes these efforts in videos available on the Prep website, at creightonprep.org/events/supportukraine.

He said his order is also providing help to people still in Ukraine through two Jesuit houses, where they can rest or sleep as they travel to leave the country, as well as transporting relief supplies to where they are needed.

“We do what we can, we ask for your help, for your support,” Father Czerniak said. “Whatever you give to us we’ll try to use in the best possible way.”

To donate visit jesuitsmidwest.org/support-us/donate-now/. Or mail donations to USA Midwest Jesuits, P.O. Box 6713, Carol Stream, IL  60197-6713 (Ukrainian Refugees in the memo line).

SPECIAL COLLECTION

 The Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe during weekend Masses March 19-20 plus subsequent donations have netted more than $235,000, said Stephen Carter, controller for the archdiocese.

This collection, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is not usually taken up in the Omaha archdiocese, but the archdiocese decided to take part this year, given the extreme needs of people in Ukraine and refugees in neighboring countries.

The collection typically supports projects in 28 countries to build up the Church in the wake of the past century’s communist oppression, civil strife and world wars. But this year the USCCB indicated the majority of the collection would be earmarked for humanitarian relief for Ukraine, Carter said.

The relief funds are being administered by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), an agency of the USCCB, he said.

The archdiocese will continue to accept donations for Ukrainian relief, he said. They can be mailed to the Archdiocese of Omaha (Ukrainian Relief in the memo line), 2222 N. 111th St., Omaha, NE 68164. Or go to archomaha.org/relief-for-ukraine.

“We’ll send in those donations as long as we keep getting them,” Carter said.