On 29 March, Card. Michael Czerny, interim Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, gave a speech at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in the context of the Informative Meeting dedicated to the "Role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the Context of War".
Here below the text of his speech entitled "Heroic Angels of Welcome":
"Il ruolo della Chiesa Greco-Cattolica Ucraina nel contesto della guerra"
March 29, 2022
Pontifical Oriental Institute
"Heroic Angels of Welcome"
Card. Michael Czerny S.J.
Prefect ad interim of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
At the Angelus on Sunday 6 March, Pope Francis said with great force, “The Holy See is prepared to do everything, to put itself at the service of peace" in Ukraine. He mentioned the missions of two Cardinals, Krajewski and Czerny, to Ukraine to bring the presence, the protest and the prayer, not only of the Pope, but of all Christian people who want to draw near and shout: “War is madness! Stop, please! Look at this cruelty!”
From 8 to 11 March in Hungary, and from 16 to 18 March in Slovakia, I visited Ukrainian refugees and those welcoming them. On the first trip I headed east from Budapest to the border crossing of Barabás and then to the Ukrainian town of Berehove; and on the second trip, I travelled from Kosice in Slovakia and visited Užhorod in Ukraine.
In western Ukraine, most Catholics belong to the Eastern rite, so many priests I met are married with wife and children. Instead of fleeing to the West as most others are doing, they and their families stay to continue caring for the displaced in flight. The priest’s house and the parish centre become safe havens where, at all hours of day and night, the priest’s whole family along with parish volunteers are on hand to welcome and comfort those in need.
We readily call them “angels”, those who do their best to help strangers in difficulty, often remaining anonymous: priests’ families as well as religious men and women, celibate priests and bishops, and many lay volunteers. Those offering care and welcome are certainly hero angels. But they are not the only ones: Scripture encourages us to look more deeply and recognize that those who are coming, fleeing, taking shelter, can also be angels in disguise. The Letter to the Hebrews warns us: "Do not forget hospitality; some, practising it, have welcomed angels unawares" (Heb 13:2).
On my trip I saw that this is true: you can tell by the changes that take place in those who welcome them. In Berehove, at a student residence converted into a reception centre, I expected to meet the Bishop and some local priests. They were there, but with them were also the heads of the other Christian and Jewish communities as well as the top civil servant. It was a similar scene in Užhorod: after the Lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in the Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Mukachevo, the Jewish and Christian leaders joined in the supper with the seminarians, and warmly greeted the Holy Father’s “ambassador”.
I was very impressed, because in those regions relations between the different confessions are often problematic and carry the burden of a history of conflict and prejudice. Suddenly, the need to welcome refugees makes possible, indeed imposes, the concrete ecumenism of solidarity: meeting and working together to respond to those in need. Being close to the poor and vulnerable brings those who welcome them closer to each other. When we behave like brothers and sisters towards them, we inevitably discover that we are all siblings, children of our Heavenly Father, children of our Blessed Mother. It sounds self-evident but we need not only say it – we have to consecrate ourselves to treating each other like brothers and sisters.
This is the good news that the Ukrainian refugees – angels unawares – share with those who welcome them: the very basic reality of their simple existence and their need for help brings everyone involved back to the essentials, and may God help us not to forget.
The profound truth touches us in the words of Pope Francis who writes in Evangelii Gaudium, speaking of the poor: "The new evangelisation is an invitation to recognise the salvific power of their lives and to place them at the centre of the Church's journey. We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them" (EG 198).
This is true, not only in western Ukraine, but also on the other side of the borders, in Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, wherever those fleeing arrive after crossing the border. May this experience become firmly established and shape a different future. "Help us to be helpful" is the request stated in meetings with persons of solidarity and with public authorities at different levels. And helpful to whom? To all the heroic angels we see who hear Jesus say “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).