In a country where the birth rate has fallen to a critical point, Ukrainians need more than ever to re-discover the value of the family as the primary place of Christian vocation. Magda Kaczmarek recently represented ACN at a 2019 Congress on the Family organised by the Latin Catholic Church in Ukraine.
Magda Kaczmarek, you have just returned from Ukraine where you were able to meet with representatives of the Catholic Church. What were your general impressions of the country?
It is a big and beautiful country, and very welcoming. But at the same time it is a country which has been through the torment of 70 years of Communism. This is reflected in the difficulties that many young people have in getting to grips with life. The communist era continues to mark today’s society. The bad habits persist, for example in public administration, which is being eaten away by the gangrene of corruption. Many Ukrainians have the feeling that their country has no future, and the younger ones, the brightest and the best, are emigrating. Others fall into despair, and it is this lack of hope that explains the alcoholism, the family break-ups and so forth. Above all, the family is under attack.
65% of the children are growing up without a father; there are around 300 abortions daily… And this in a country that is tragically lacking in children. The birth rate currently stands at 1.38 – whereas it needs to be 2.1 simply to replace the present generation. Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, summed up the problem very well: there is a lack of hope in society and a lack of love in the families.
And what about the Catholic Church in Ukraine? How is it looking?
The Catholic Church in Ukraine is made up of the Greek Catholic Church and the Latin-rite Catholic Church, which is the smaller of the two. Nonetheless, the Latin Catholic Church, despite having no more than 1.5 million faithful, is doing wonderful work. It has come back to life, following the communist era, and it is altogether striking to see the youthful nature of its clergy, which is a sign of its rebirth. But it needs all our support to be able to rebuild itself, and that is why Ukraine is one of the priority countries for ACN’s support, with an annual budget of over 3 million Euros.
Despite its small size, it is prominent in helping those people who still find themselves in the war zone in the east of the country, supplying them with both material and spiritual support through its Christian Rescue Center. The Church is also helping those who have fled the war zone, so that they can rebuild their lives elsewhere. It ministers to them pastorally, too, responding to those who want to know more about God and the Gospels.
But at the same time the Church can see, beyond the political trials and tribulations that are afflicting the country, that her first concern must be the defence of the family. I was deeply moved by the talks given at the Synod. They were often given by fathers of families who are very much involved in both the spiritual and the temporal life of their parishes. Together with their wives they are bringing up large families, of five, seven and even as many as ten children, something quite exceptional, above all in Ukraine! They are willing to tackle the lack of hope head-on. I believe that the commitment of these men is proof that the future of the Church resides in the family, living with God. They are doing this with daily prayer, catechism, liturgy, celebrating feast days with shared family meals, and so forth.
Nonetheless, they number no more than a handful. How is their example going to be enough to bring about a spiritual rebirth of Ukraine?
It seems to me that one of the keys to this is the new communities. The fathers and mothers of families who witnessed so beautifully to their life of faith within the family setting all belong to the new communities, for example the Neo-catechumenal Way, the Families of Nazareth, the house churches, to name just a few. These communities are places of spiritual dynamism, where Christians can meet together and share in a very positive manner.
Pope Francis himself has said so. We are living in an age where Christians can recover their spirit of Christian mission within such communities, just as they did in the very early years of Christianity.