Faith-based groups offer critical aid to Ukrainian refugees

Written by William C. Duncan

March 25, 2022

For 800 years, the Dominican monastery in Krakow, Poland, has been the home of dedicated Catholic friars who pray and minister in the community. In the last two weeks, the priory (a type of monastery) has begun to host Ukrainian refugees – more than 100 have stayed there. Among these guests was a Muslim family; another, a newborn and mother. A profile in Aleteia explains:

“Right now we have a little, little child staying with us,” recounts [Andrzej] Mońka [a seminarian at the priory]. “Today this baby is eighteen days old. You can imagine what this mother is feeling. It’s difficult for a mother to give birth normally. Think of suffering postpartum depression, while trying to escape the war. Lacking sleep, going from place to place, not being able to stay at home, and doing all this without your husband.” Fortunately one of the guests currently staying with the Dominicans is a doctor. The other Ukrainian families support this mother too.

Other Catholic organizations in Poland have provided similar assistance: “3,064 people, including 1,362 children fleeing war in Ukraine, have found shelter in men’s religious houses in Poland. Additionally, 999 people, including 374 children, are being hosted in the parishes they run. Nearly 14,000 people have received meals served by men’s religious communities.”

The plight of refugees is an overwhelming challenge. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 84 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. Many are still within their countries, but more than 26 million are refugees who have left.

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan resulted in millions of displaced persons, Sutherland described the critical role religious groups play in providing for the needs of refugees.

With another high-profile refugee crisis, this time in Ukraine, Catholic and other religious groups are joining governments and others to provide critical assistance.

The Jewish Foundation of Greater Washington, D.C., has collected more than $1 million to administer in humanitarian assistance like food and clothing on the borders of Ukraine. They have “assisted 1,000 Jewish Ukrainian refugees, including 100 orphans.”

Formed in 1993, Muslim Hands “packaged food, clothing, blankets and other essential items for families which should last a month” and is distributing them in Poland to refugees.

A religious freedom advocate arguing for a significant role for religious charities in providing aid to Ukrainian refugees, notes:

Ukrainian churches are already on the front lines responding to the immediate needs of people within the country, and congregations around the world are funneling support to churches and organizations in Ukraine. Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse is also sending aid and deploying five field hospitals. Other organizations are sending resources and staff to assist Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland.

In England, the government allows individuals and organizations to sponsor refugees arriving in the country. Christianity Today reports: “Over 500 churches have pledged to support Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK under the government’s new humanitarian sponsorship route.”

As the Deseret News recently reported, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “has also donated $4 million to the World Food Program and the U.N. agency to assist tens of thousands of both Ukrainian refugees and those who remain in the war-torn nation.” In Europe, the church established a

Partner Branch System, [which] has helped the church to support its congregations near the Ukraine border and more efficiently provide humanitarian aid there. The system partners 19 German, Swiss and Austrian stakes (groups of congregations in a geographical area) with 24 congregations of the countries in the Europe Area that share a border with Ukraine.

The article notes many other examples, most in Europe.

Religious groups and people of faith are often hesitant to talk about the service they provide because motives matter, and they do not want to draw attention to those efforts out of a selfish motive. Given the complexity of needs in refugee situations (housing, income, language barriers, social connection, education, healthcare, etc.) and the depth of organization needed to meet them, these efforts must be shared between governments and community organizations. Churches voluntarily bear an outsized portion of this burden, and without them many refugee needs may simply remain unmet. This, in turn, allows increased understanding and appreciation of the good that people of faith do.

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