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February 24, 2023, Lviv, Ukraine – Riding trains overnight in a warzone, attending meetings in bomb shelters and the funeral of young soldiers slain in war, talking to war victims and to the people who reach out to them in service. These are some of the highlights that Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, shared in a webinar about her mid-February solidarity visit to Ukraine.
As President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), Sister Donna traveled to Ukraine for her week-long visit to “get a sense of the reality” of the women and children coming to the United States from Ukraine. The visit is a follow-up to a meeting about a year ago between Sister Donna, senior staff members of CCUSA, and Ukrainian bishops to discuss how CCUSA could reach out and support refugees from Ukraine.
In addition, Sister Donna said, she made the dangerous journey to Ukraine to meet with her counterparts – staff members of Caritas Ukraine – to learn about their experiences and to engage with the Church leaders about the “severe, massive trauma” inflicted on the Ukrainian people during the war with Russia.
Sister Donna’s journey took her and her traveling companions – Archbishop Borys Gudziak; Father Roman Oliinyk, a Ukrainian priest from Pennsylvania; and Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York – from Warsaw, Poland, to Lviv to attend a funeral of two young Ukrainian soldiers killed that week. While there, they also visited a military rehabilitation hospital for patients suffering from war injuries.
In Kyiv, Sister Donna and her companions met with her counterparts in Caritas Ukraine, who serve in a center that ministers to “literally tens of thousands of people who have been internally displaced” by the war. “Caritas Ukraine is providing the same kinds of things that Catholic Charities is providing at our border with our migrants – the blankets, clean clothing, bedding, [and] toiletries,” she said. “And they’re doing that with thousands of people every day.”
Sister Donna’s time in Kyiv also gave her the opportunity to hear about other issues the Ukrainian people have faced during the ongoing war:
the massacre by Russian soldiers of the citizens of the town of Bucha in the early period of the war,
a woman medic’s account of her 94-days of imprisonment and torture by Russians.
Back in Lviv, she met with the students at the Ukrainian Catholic University, had breakfast with special needs young adults living in Emmaus House on the university campus, and experienced meetings in a bomb shelter during attacks on the city.
As a follow up to her visit, Sister Donna said she plans to develop materials that can be used in training in “managing trauma, largely for the leaders and for students so that they will have some tools in the healing process once they’re in their own communities.” In turn, she said, Catholic Charities will “do everything possible to help the women and children [refugees in the United States] to heal from the trauma.”
Sister Donna concluded by suggesting ways that people in the United States can help the people of Ukraine. “Mostly, they need our friendship,” she said. “They need to know that they are not standing alone. They need to know that we care about them and that we’ll do whatever is possible for us to help them.”
Sister Donna also suggested the concerned people send donations – to Catholic Charities under the umbrella of refugees to help Ukrainian refugees in the United States and to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Catholic Church’s relief organization for the rest of the world.
Watch a recording of Sister Donna’s webinar.
Feature photo: Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, right, examines the many donations made to the people of Ukraine through Caritas Ukraine in Kyiv. Screenshot from Solidarity Visit to Ukraine Webinar
February 13, 2023, San Salvador, El Salvador – Adrian Dominican Sisters Leonor Esnard, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP, were among 42 delegates – Catholic Sisters, graduate students, professionals, and activists – who took part in a November 29-December 12, 2022, delegation to Central America: a journey of discovery, solidarity, and advocacy.
The experience encompassed two separate delegations. Roses in December, the November 29-December 4, 2022, experience in El Salvador, was co-sponsored by the SHARE Foundation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organization of the elected leadership of the majority of congregations of U.S. Catholic Sisters.
Roses in December marked the 42nd anniversary of the killing of four U.S. Catholic missionaries who were in ministry in El Salvador. Members of the delegation spent much of their time learning about and honoring those four martyrs. In addition, they learned about Archbishop Oscar Romero, who stood up for human rights and was shot on March 24, 1980, and six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter, who were murdered during the night in November 1989 in their residence at the University of Central America.
True to the mission of the SHARE Foundation to focus on accompaniment, solidarity, and advocacy, the delegates also learned about the current political context in El Salvador – marked by increasing oppression and martial law – as well as the programs offered by SHARE’s local community partners to make a difference in the lives of the people. They also had the opportunity to hear the stories of the people and to show their support.
Immediately following this experience was the Vamos A La Milpah delegation to Honduras, December 5-12, 2022. Some participants stayed in the urban area of San Pedro Sula to learn about the circumstances of the people who live in cities and about the programs of the Sisters of Mercy that helped to address their difficulties. Others traveled about seven hours by bus to Bajo Aguan, an agricultural area, to meet people who continue to defend their water and land rights, often at the risk of their lives.
The experience of meeting the campesinos who were threatened by extractive industry corporations to give up their land became poignant to members of the delegation after their return to the United States with the news that several land rights activists in Honduras were killed.
Each day was filled with scheduled events and activities, but the delegates also had time to share their lives and their experiences with one another during long bus rides, meals and at the retreat center and hotels where they stayed.
Sister Leonor said that, while this was her first trip to Central America, “the lush green woods were a warm reminder of my previous trips to Havana” in her native Cuba. Speaking Spanish throughout the two-week experience “was another way for me to engage with people and reconnect with my native culture and language.”
Sister Leonor said she learned much from the experience. “My most compelling awareness was the solidarity shared by the people among themselves and with us,” she said. “We learned about human rights violations, extensive poverty, the abuse of women, the detention of youth, political torture, and death. Suffering was endured, but it was not the center of people’s lives. Suffering was integrated into transforming and motivating [the people of Central America] to create collaborative, vital organizations for advocacy rooted in faith.”
Sister Barbara spoke of her gratitude to the Congregation for the opportunity to participate in the delegation. “It was an eye-opening and a heart-opening experience as I learned about the difficulties that the people continue to face – and yet the welcome, the joy, and the friendship they shared with us,” she said. “The experience has changed me and has helped me to feel in my heart that the people in El Salvador and Honduras are my brothers and sisters – and that we’re all connected."
Sisters Leonor and Barbara will share their experience in greater detail during a live stream presentation, scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST Thursday, March 2, 2023.
View recordings of their presentation below, in English and Spanish.
English audio (presentation begins as 5:35):
Feature photo: Sisters Leonor Esnard, OP, left, and Barbara Kelley, OP, at a mural in El Salvador. The Sisters were members of the Roses in December delegation to El Salvador and Honduras.