Even before the pandemic, Ukraine faced numerous grave challenges. 70 years of communism have left a profound mark on society, bedevilled today by corruption, economic crisis, lack of opportunities and a war in the east of the country. All these things are pushing above all many of the younger and better educated members of society to leave the country. And now the pandemic has only made matters still worse.
It is especially important to strengthen the faith of the young. For after the long years of atheistic upbringing many people have lost their bearings, sometimes seeking help in such things as fortune-telling or astrology. Yet at the same time it is evident that many young people in particular are genuinely searching for God.
In order to help young people like these put their lives on a sound footing and recognise God‘s presence in their lives, the Franciscan Fathers have for some years now been organising an annual youth meeting – now in its 19th year – to the famous Marian shrine of Bilshivtsi in West Ukraine. The shrine with its famous image of the Mother of God, to whom many miracles have been attributed, dates back to the year 1624. During Soviet times the church was desecrated and shut, but in the year 2001 the shrine and church were opened once again. Today it is in the care of the Franciscan Friars and once again the destination for many pilgrims.
This year the youth meeting organised by the Franciscans will run from 11 to 14 July. The gathering will be preceded by a pilgrimage in which the young people will walk, singing and praying, starting from six different towns and cities and converging on Bilshivtsi.
Prayers, religious instruction and Holy Mass will all be part of the programme, as will theatre performances, films and social gatherings. There will also be opportunities for confession and spiritual counsel and accompaniment. And the gathering will be open to everyone, not only to Catholic young people. This year the meeting will be organised on the theme of reconciliation and forgiveness.
The Franciscans have asked our help for improvements to the technical equipment, especially the sound system and loudspeakers, for example. And they also ask our help to cover the cost of accommodating the young pilgrims. We have promised them 5000 Euros.