BASILIAN VOLUNTEER TEAM PAYS GOODWILL VISIT TO UKRAINE
Mission team visits Bukovo psychiatric institution
More than twenty years ago, Sister Mary Bernarda Arkatin, OSBM, a member of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great, Jesus Lover of Humanity Province, initiated summer journeys of goodwill to the needy, orphaned and handicapped of Ukraine. Bearing gifts and treats as well as compassion and love, Sister became a frequent and welcomed visitor as she traveled from site to site, from institution to hospital, to orphanages and to campsites.
Carrying on the tradition established by Sister Bernarda to collaborate with the Basilian Sisters in Ukraine and to help the needy, Sister Joann Sosler, OSBM, and Sister Ann Laszok, OSBM, left Sunday, May 31, 2015, on what has now become the Basilian Volunteer Program to carry on the humanitarian mission. The Sisters, along with three young women had visited two years ago, but unrest in the eastern sector of that country forced them to cancel their plans in 2014. Accompanying Sister Joann and Sister Ann this summer were Dennis Keathley of Tennessee and Gary Israel of Florida.
Soon after their arrival, the team set up a one-week English Christian Camp in Skole. Working with Sister Lucia Murashko, OSBM, Director of the Karpaty campsite, and a staff of five counselors the team divided the forty-six children into four groups of English classes that covered reading, pronunciation, grammar and writing. The highlight of the first day was distributing to the children knapsacks of school supplies which were prepared by Gary Israel and his team of Downe Syndrome adults in Florida.
A daily celebration of the Divine Liturgy included prayers and petitions for the childrens’ relatives engaged in warfare in Eastern Ukraine. Meals, playtime, sports and evening prayer and activities directed by Sister Lucia and Father Yurij rounded out the day. A welcomed break from studies was a trip to the zoo for the children and a visit by the adults to Drohobych, a beautiful old town encompassing a seminary. Other highlights of the Christian camp were performances at “Talent Night”, learning the Hokey Pokey and being treated by Gary Israel to ice-cream and pizza. The week ended with the celebration of Divine Liturgy, the distribution of awards and tearful farewells.
Gary Israel teaches the hokey pokey
Camp participants and instructors
“The students participated in many first- time experiences,” said Sister Joann. “The program allowed for spiritual, academic, physical growth and community life. It was a wholesome growing experience for all.”
Included in the team’s itinerary were gift-laden visits to two orphanages and at the Saint Nicholas Village of Mercy in Ivano Frankivsk run by the Incarnate Word Sisters, the team distributed Beany Babies, candy and bananas as well as a monetary gift for the upkeep of the home. At the Adult Psychiatric Institute in Pohoia, the team was treated to a medley of songs by a group of the residents who perform at other institutions.
A visit to the Bukovo Psychiatric Institute found the children engaged in artwork and eager to recite the prayers they had learned for their visitors. Some of the children remembered the team’s visit two years ago and even recalled Sister Bernarda. All were excited to receive the various gifts and the visitors found it heart-wrenching to leave them.
Upon the completion of their summer camp and goodwill visits to various institutions and orphanages, Sister Ann and Sister Joann were pleased to share their experiences with the Basilian novices in Lviv, who welcomed them with the traditional gifts of bread, salt and song.
On the morning of their departure from Ukraine, Sisters Joann and Ann attended the Divine Liturgy at Saint George Cathedral in Lviv and prayed at the tombs of Metropolitan Sheptytsky and Metropolitan Lubachivsky for all benefactors, partners in prayer and everyone who had helped make their goodwill trip possible and who offered prayers for the team’s fruitful mission and safe return.
Sister Ann Laszok, Dennis Keathley, Sister Joann Sosler pray for benefactors at Metropolitan Sheptytsky's tomb
Dennis Keathley receives parting gift from camp participant
“Our team of Ukrainian and American folks rose to every challenge,” said Sister Ann, “They’re great--very talented, helpful and efficient and (we) couldn’t ask for nicer people to work with.”
Calling to mind the works of charity of Saint Basil the Great and his sister Saint Macrina and heeding the exhortations of Pope Francis to reach out to the poor and marginalized, the Sisters of Saint Basil urge the Faithful to consider taking part in the Basilian Volunteer Mission to Ukraine next year, 2016.
If interested in serving with or supporting the mission, please contact:
Sister Ann Laszok, OSBM
The two lay volunteer members of the 2015 visit to Ukraine express their experiences:
Dennis Keathley: “For me, our mission trip was a delight (travel challenges and potholes aside)! I enjoyed teaching English pronunciation using our Creed, prayers and hymns. It was a privilege to interact with those wonderful children and to visit with the orphans.
I also see, with the widespread return of faith in Western Ukraine (not that faith or the Lord ever left), that Ukraine is really the hope of Europe, as it seems to be the last large bastion of faith against the cruelty of secular humanism. The churches are so beautiful, but it is the faith of my fellow Catholic Christians that is so breathtaking.
The trip was a great privilege for me, and the hospitality of the Religious and the children touched my heart more than I can express.”
Gary Israel: “The mission was a bold effort to bring education and social services to a part of Ukraine. In addition to establishing an English camp for preteens and teenagers, the Sisters spread their good works to orphanages, churches, psychiatric institutions and facilities housing mentally and physically disabled adults. For those of us who were fortunate enough to be invited to participate it was a life-changing event. As the only non-Ukrainian speaking teacher, the opportunity gave me great insight into the mechanisms of teaching English. The kids were great. They were forced to speak English to me, not only in class, but during meals and during our social outings to the waterfall and the zoo. It was not hard to fall in love with all of them. Although I am told of the amazing opportunity this was for the children, I consider myself the lucky one. I have 46 new friends. We continue to communicate via email since the camp ended.
The excursions to the orphanages, institutions and visits to the physically and mentally infirm would have humbled the toughest of us. The facilities were first rate, the staff was caring, the atmosphere was promising. It was good to see that the most vulnerable in this society, to this extent were cared for. Of course, need is all around. There is never enough money or resources to do all we can. It was easy to lend whatever support we could.
The nuns I met I feel are now my sisters. Whether we communicated directly in English or through interpreters, they are the epitome of kindness and giving. Although not of their faith, I was captured by their devotion not only to their God, but to humanity. I understand that the group has been invited back to run more camps in future years. Please sign me up.”
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