By Father Paul
One day in mid fall of 1994, Fr. Vitaly, the pastor of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Sumy Ukraine, was visiting Holy Apostles Parish in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He asked me if Holy Apostles would consider becoming a sister parish for Annunciation Parish in Sumy, Ukraine. I responded that I would take the request to our parish Charismatic Renewal group, to our staff, and other leaders. The result: That I should see this request as a call from God Our Father.
We met again in a few days and I asked Fr. Vitaly what it meant to him to be a “Sister Parish?” He simply said “come and see.” So I chose to go during Holy Week in 1995 to see Christ rising from the graves of Communism.
And 5 years later a non profit CONU organization was formed. We were very active in the early years, forming pen pals, making team visits to be with these in their land of martyrs who so needed to know they were not alone. We helped rebuild, repair several churches, and built a new church in Konotop, and purchased two houses, which we joined, to be a first ever church in Shostka, a former closed Soviet munitions city ; we provided washers and dryers for state owned and operated orphanages, from which families of Holy Apostles adopted children; organized a 10 team medical team of pediatricians nurses and dentists to help families in Sumy; we helped a community of religious sisters teach blind children in Karkhov; and provided help for two nuns who were helping single homeless pregnant women; and donated money to the Vincentian Fathers in Kharkiv in their mission to the elderly and to the homeless older children who lived in the sewers in the winter and in the cemeteries in the summer.
In the fall of 2015, I returned for about 10 days, and went again, in 2016 for 5 weeks, and in 2017 I have made 2 more trips, to assess how we should or should not continue. Traveling in the North and South in cities near the Russian border, I experience so many kinds of poverty, from the homeless elderly, to mothers and wives suddenly becoming single mothers, to speaking with people who have experienced their income drop in some cases 75 Percent and others who have no income! And in all these dark times, to experience Ukraine joy and hope sprouting, breaking through, determined to provide care and compassion with and for each other…, I knew we were called to continue…with a shift of focus: to develop a partnership of prayer and action with and for each other in both nations, allowing ourselves to share both in giving and receiving the many gifts God has given us, experiencing a greater depth of our human dignity, sharing our God Stories of our Divine/human interaction in one Body of Christ.