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Amid war, Basilian sisters are ‘praying, healing, life-giving presence in world,’

June 22, 2023
Posted in: News

JENKINTOWN, Pa. (OSV News) — Amid the war in Ukraine, Basilian sisters strive “to be a praying, healing and life-giving presence in this world,” Mother Marcela Runcan, general superior, told OSV News.

Based at the order’s generalate in Rome, Mother Marcela, accompanied by Basilian Sister Emanujila Vishka, journeyed to the U.S. in late May for visits with sisters as well as meetings with Archbishop Borys Gudziak, metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S. The two spoke with OSV News at the order’s Jesus, Lover of Humanity Province in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

The order traces its roots to the fourth century, when St. Basil the Great — regarded as the father of Eastern Christian monasticism — and his sister St. Macrina (whose life of prayer and service inspired her brother) established monastic communities in Asia Minor.

Over time, the Basilian rule of monastic life expanded into the Slavic countries of central and eastern Europe. Basilian sisters have lived in what is now the modern-day nation of Ukraine since at least the 11th century, retaining their Byzantine Catholic heritage as their order expanded throughout the world.

Today, some 400 Basilian sisters on three continents continue to “serve the needs of the church” in each country they call home, said Mother Marcela — and in Ukraine, about 150 sisters are “(Christ’s) praying presence” as that nation marks more than 15 months of a full-scale invasion by Russia, continuing attacks launched in 2014.

“They are present there with their life, with their prayer, with their activities, serving the people that need their help,” she said.

“They want to be with their people,” Sister Emanujila told OSV News. “They feel that they are needed there. Even when we or sisters from other countries offered, ‘Please come (to us) to be safe,’ they refused to come. They said, ‘We want to be with where we are needed, with those who are in danger, who are suffering.'”

Two sisters have chosen to remain in the city of Zaporizhzhia, just miles from Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe. Occupied by Russian troops since March 2022, the plant has seen multiple losses of power and safety violations, creating what International Atomic Energy Agency director Raffaele Grossi has called an “extremely fragile and dangerous” situation.

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