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ROME – As the war in Ukraine continues into its second week, the Italian Catholic Church is among the various organizations and associations stepping in to offer help to families and individuals that have been displaced by fighting.
Much of this support is happening through a special collection being taken up by the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) during the Lenten season.
On Feb. 28, at the close of a meeting of Church leaders and mayors from the Mediterranean, the Italian bishops announced a special fundraising campaign organized by Caritas Italy, the proceeds of which will be sent to the Greek Catholic Caritas Ukraine and Latin Rite Caritas Spes branches to be used as needed.
Caritas Italy is in regular contact with the Ukraine branches and is also coordinating with Caritas Europe and Caritas International as it seeks to be “a tireless presence in the emergency, with constant attention to the people,” according to a communique announcing the initiative.
As now millions of Ukrainian refugees pour into other European nations, “the entire network of diocesan Caritas throughout the country supports the necessary actions to respond to the most urgent needs of the suffering or fleeing population, and to contribute to welcoming those who will arrive in Italy,” the communique said.
The Italian government, according to Caritas Ukraine president Tetiana Stawnychy, has offered to take in Ukrainian refugees, with special attention to sick children or those in need of medical care whose treatments were interrupted by the war.
Italy is famous for its Vatican-owned pediatric hospital, Bambino Gesu, but other hospitals have also stepped in, including Rome’s Gemelli hospital, which is where popes traditionally go for treatment and which last week received a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl suffering from a malignant kidney tumor.
The CEI fundraising collection for Caritas is being taken up by parishes throughout the country, with many designating special boxes at the back of the church where mass-goers can deposit funds.
Pharmacies have also begun their own drives, offering customers the ability to purchase medications such as cold medicine and painkillers that are placed in a designated box to be shipped directly to those in need.
Italy’s FIDAE federation has also pitched in, offering to accept Ukrainian students whose education has been interrupted by the war.
FIDAE is a federation of primary and secondary Catholic schools in Italy which are either dependent on or recognized by their local ecclesial authority, and which are supported by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education.
In a statement, FIDAE national president Virginia Kaladich said, “hospitality and solidarity are two principles at the basis of our federation and of the Catholic school more generally.”
Through a special project launched during the coronavirus lockdown to connect children unable to attend school and promoted under the hashtag “#vogliamofarescuola”, Kaladich said FIDAE was able to establish partnerships with several foreign students, including a handful from the Ukrainian city Chernobyl, site of the world’s most infamous nuclear disaster in 1986, who were hosted in their schools for a time.
“We therefore continue in our mission, aware that today an extra effort is needed to try to alleviate the suffering of those who are leaving their country,” Kaladich said.
She voiced her conviction that “peace is built above all through education to care for and respect others, as Pope Francis has repeated to us, and which we must try even more to pass on to our children, who are the future citizens of the world.”
Coldiretti, Italy’s largest agricultural organization, is also rallying in support of Ukrainians and for an end to the war through demonstrations and food-gathering campaigns.
A large demonstration held by Coldiretti employees will take place March 10 in the center of the Italian city of Trento, bringing along animals and agricultural equipment and machinery to protest the rising prices of food as a result of the war.
Apart from the rise in oil, gas, and energy prices, food prices have also begun to soar over the past two weeks.
Food prices were already rising before the war broke out as one impact of the coronavirus pandemic, however, since Russia and Ukraine together account for roughly 30 percent of internationally traded wheat, global sanctions against Russia and the continual bombing of Ukraine’s agricultural fields have meant that wheat prices have skyrocketed.
Contracts to supply wheat jumped by 60 percent last week, with the price of corn rising 15 percent, potentially causing shortages in poorer nations dependent on the Russian and Ukrainian supply, as much of it is distributed through the Black Sea to the Middle East and Africa.
Also on March 10, Italian Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of CEI, will hold an evening torchlight prayer vigil alongside farmers and livestock breeders to call for peace in Ukraine.
Throughout Italy, solidarity events for Coldiretti are being organized, including the decision by some markets to offer shoppers the opportunity to purchase products that will be sent to citizens in Ukraine, or donated to Ukrainian refugees who have fled and are arriving in Italy.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen