"Be generous, and use whatever is left over from real needs to do good."—Saint Basil the Great
Mission Trip to Ukraine 2019: A Basilian Legacy Continues
Sister Mary Bernarda Arkatin, OSBM, (1922 – 2019) a member of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great, Jesus Lover of Humanity Province, initiated and continued summer journeys of goodwill to the needy, orphaned and handicapped of Ukraine for more than 20 years. Bearing monetary 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 Ann Laszok, OSBM along with three young women accompanied Sr. Bernarda for two weeks in 2012. That trip initiated what has now become the Basilian Volunteer Program to carry on the humanitarian legacy of Sr. Bernarda.
The Basilian Volunteer Program expanded in 2015 into a week long English Catechetical camp with at first two volunteers then with each consecutive year more camps and more volunteers in various regions of eastern and western Ukraine.
This past summer from May 23 to June 16, 2019 nine volunteers, along with Sr Monica Lesnick and Sr Ann Laszok, traveled again to Ukraine to teach at three English Catechetical camps in Mukachevo, Drohobych and Ivano-Frankivsk. Visiting orphanages, psychiatric institutions, half-way houses rounded off the days after classes.
Dennis Drost, Helen Fedoriw, Marcia Bolesky, Kim Matto, Anya Chawluk, Joyce Cahill, David Olszyk, Teresa Danovich , Chrystyna Cech, Sr. Ann, Sr. Monica arrived in Lviv from NJ, PA, OH, OR and London, UK to gel into a community of team teachers to over 180 children. The compressed schedule didn’t allow much time for sightseeing but one full day in Yaremche and Bukovel in the Carpathian Mountains was a respite that all enjoyed.
The volunteers definitely gave glory to Jesus Christ for three full weeks with their service to the needy of Ukraine! Each one joined their special gifts and talents to make a beautiful mosaic of service to those we came in contact. Many great memories were made and much joy was received as well as shared with all those we encountered.
One wonderful providential blessing that happened along the way from Ivano-Frankivsk to Mukachevo was stopping off in Skole, the site of our first English camp, to locate a long lost living relative to Chrystyna. On the way back from our Mukachevo camp Chrystyna was able to meet up with her uncle and see her mother’s home. Everyone rejoiced at Chrystyna’s blessing.
Here are some reflections by the volunteers:
“Having been home now for almost 2 months, the memories of this trip and our small group of volunteers will remain with me forever. I arrived in Ukraine for the 1st time with a completely open mind and heart. The students we taught filled my heart and left permanent memories. I was particularly interested in the homeless and drug and alcohol rehabilitation center we visited. We attended Liturgy with the Bishop celebrating the Drug and Alcohol rehabilitation Center ’s 25th Anniversary and just recently started taking women. They have several more buildings under construction / repair and will eventually be able to take families for therapy and homelessness. This was a fantastic effort by very few people and was so heartwarming to see all of their efforts. Another very special experience for me was visiting the children’s psychiatric facility. My sister had given me a set of miniature children’s picture books to give to a child and one of the young women at the psychiatric center saw my books and signaled for me to follow her, she led me directly to a little girl in a wheelchair. I said hello and gave her the picture books and received the biggest smile as she moved with joy to the dance music being played – I will never forget her (refer to pictures attached) and finally I wanted to say THANK YOU to Sister Ann and Sister Monica for allowing me to travel with them on this Mission Trip. God Bless You Both. (Marcia, 2019)
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take this trip. I know that it is easy to say “life changing”, but it was. It is hard to get into the normal swing of things out here in Oregon. I am still trying to assess the experience, but it was a real blessing.”(Dave, 2019)
It is very difficult to put my reflections into words. When people ask me how my trip was, I normally say that it was challenging physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Right now I notice how grateful I am for so many things that I took for granted: roads that don’t have potholes, bananas and the availability of many types of fruits year-round, living in a less humid environment, a lot fewer mosquitoes where I currently live, being able to sleep in a bed and have my pillows situated so I do not get a crick in my neck, toilets that I can sit down on and put toilet paper into and still flush them without clogging them, etc., etc. And looking at this list makes me also realize how shallow some of these things are. They make my life comfortable in comparison to the very real threats that affect the Ukrainian people. Getting down to the basics — having a deep faith life and caring for family — are what are most important.
Highlights: There were so many “God moments” that it is hard to only name a few. They include: feeding a banana to a girl with cerebral palsy who was also partially blind and the sheer joy on her face at the gift of being able to eat a banana; the one woman who took my hand and would not let go and wanted to sing; the boy, who I thought was one of the “goof-offs” in class, who chose an icon packet as one of the prizes at the end of class and was encouraging other students to do the same rather than choosing a spinner, frisbee, or deck of cards; the many beautiful old and new icons that I saw; the incredible kindness and hospitality of many groups of Sisters that we met and their dedication to Christ and building up His kingdom in so many varied ways; the many wayside shrines and the people who reverenced the ones depicted; the pastoral magnanimity of the priests that we met and their zeal in helping their parishioners meet their not only spiritual, but also psychological and sometimes even physical needs; the gift that Chrystyna received in finding new relatives (we are all rejoicing for her); the students and their willingness to spend a few minutes in silence before God and to listen to that “still, small voice” and to share their reflections with the group (and I am grateful to Helen that she wrote down some of their comments, but I apologize that I did not).
Do thank those who donated for our room, board, transportation and the treats we shared with those we visited, and also especially those who prayed for our journey. We are so thankful for this opportunity to be with the Ukrainian people. I hope that we helped them in some small measure and I know that they have helped us on our spiritual journey. And this experience will take me quite awhile to “process.” I am very much built up in my faith by theirs.
As a side note, I think it would also be good to encourage the volunteers to learn at least some Ukrainian — Dennis told me I wouldn’t need much, but I certainly wished I had learned more phrases before I traveled. And pairing me with Helen was a Godsend since her knowledge of Ukrainian was immensely helpful (and how to keep control of a classroom of middle-school-age students too). And thank you Sister Ann for all of your care and concern for each one of us. You are a blessing, and I pray that your knees are feeling a bit more rested now that we’ve been back to the states for over a week. How time continues on. (Teresa Danovich, 2019)
“My heart desires ways to deepen my faith and relationship with Christ. Our mission trip to Ukraine proved, in many ways, to support this. Through acts of service including teaching, supporting, donating, caring, and loving, newfound relationships were formed with the Ukrainian children, families, teachers (both American and Ukrainian), priests, and sisters. How I enjoyed teaching the children about health in relation to environmental science along with my co-teacher, David!
I saw our Ukrainian Catholic brothers and sisters work very hard in taking care of, building, and rebuilding their churches, schools, and convents. All in order to continue to glorify Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We do need continued help in the updating and care of our convents. Oh the Sisters, they are so hard working and a delight!
One of the ways I was most impacted during this mission trip was in my experience with the sisters at Matins and Vespers at the Sisters of St. Basil monastery in Lviv. I was so moved that afterwords I felt like I was floating above ground, moving and yet my body felt so still inside and out. Prayer is so powerful! I pray that this mission trip continues, as its presence in Ukraine has such a deep impact. We are blessed as missionaries to have served with Sister Ann and Sister Monica.” (Joyce, 2019)
“May I begin by thanking you for the chance to participate in the 2019 Sisters of St Basil Mission to Ukraine. I found the experience truly humbling. Throughout the 3-week mission in Ukraine we were meeting people on a daily basis whose mission it is to help the needy whether through education or through providing the daily necessities to those in need of shelter and a variety of illnesses. In all of this it was possible to feel the hand of God guiding and supporting their efforts. It was a privilege to play a small part in this process and to join in the daily Liturgy and prayers which strengthened our resolve and understanding.
The Mission comprises individuals from all walks of life, leaving their home comforts and coming together to contribute their skills and willingness to help the needy. Coupled with this is the effort before the Mission is even in the Ukraine, publizising the event and garnering support from those unable to physically be part of the Mission but who support it with their prayers and by donating. The common aim far surpasses the individual and results in blessings beyond our initial comprehension.
Many thanks, Sister Ann, the foundation and guiding light of the Mission and to all fellow missionaries who shared their lives and their skills imparted by God. What a great time it was!
I have many fond memories: the sisters in the monasteries we stayed in being truly ‘sisterly’, the views of the countryside as we made our (bumpy) way to and from the institutions we were visiting (бузько, бузько), the many beautiful churches we saw and the priests working so hard for their parish communities, the hopes and aspirations of the young people we met, the people whose lives are being turned around socially and physically through the efforts of those involved in the projects we visited …
As you know, Sister Ann, I for one received more than I gave. Through your help and willingness to divert plans, I managed to find members of my family that I truly believed were lost. It was truly a life-affirming experience which I am still processing. “ (Chrystyna, 2019)
The Basilian Volunteer Mission Program
The Basilian Volunteer Mission Program is a living, growing mission. During our last Provincial Chapter the Sisters of Jesus, Lover of Humanity Province made a commitment to continued spiritual growth through “ A Pilgrims’ Journey to Transformation”. We extend this invitation to others who would consider joining us on this journey. As the needs of the times change the roads change and the journey changes.
Over 100 years ago Bishop Ortynsky, OSBM extended an invitation to the Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great to help the Ukrainian immigrants in America. Now the invitation is of the Bishops of Ukraine requesting our assistance to the poor in Ukraine. We have journeyed a full circle. We appreciate all your financial and physical support in the past and invite you to continue your collaboration in this endeavor.
The Basilian Volunteer Mission Program is an invitation extended to women and men to experience the Mission of The Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great of being the Praying, Healing and Life-Giving Presence of Christ in a broken world and through community living. St. Basil teaches us that Community Life provides the possibility for us to be sent to minister to the people of God.
Basilian Volunteers make a commitment to a shared way of life that supports, encourages and challenges growth within a framework of a common desire to work for healing in our world and being a praying, healing and life-giving presence in the world. Community challenges one to form honest and open relationships. This means respectfully confronting tensions as well as addressing and celebrating differences. We require that volunteers be mature, responsible adults who represent the Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great and whose actions reflect not only the volunteer but the Sisters as well.
Requirements of a Basilian Volunteer:
- Over 21 years of age
- Married or single
- Responsible for airfare and financial obligations incurred on the mission
- Open to participate in prayer and reflection
- College educated or have related life experiences
- Available for ministry in the month of June
- Responsible for required reading:
- Spirituality of St. Basil the Great
- Sacred Scripture
- “Transfiguration” by John Dear
- A Meditation on Transforming Ourselves and Our World
The Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great arrange for food and lodging at each location of ministry.
Interested in learning more? For more information, call:
Sister Joann Sosler, OSBM
Sister Ann Laszok, OSBM