KRAKOW, Poland – Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, a former president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, wrapped up a six-day visit to Poland, Ukraine, and Slovakia this week, aiming to boost fundraising efforts to assist Ukrainians who’ve fled their war-torn nation.
Dolan told Polish television that the trip had been “an inspiration to see the faith, the hope, the grit and the resilience of Ukrainian refugees.”
Dolan also praised the welcome Poland has extended to the refugees, saying it was “a tremendous lift up to see the beautiful compassion of the people of Poland who have welcomed Ukrainians so warmly and tenderly.”
Three million Ukrainians have come to Poland since the war started on February 24th. Catholic organizations have invested record resources, both in humanitarian assistance sent directly to Ukraine and also to refugees who’ve crossed the borders of Poland, Slovakia, or Hungary.
“They feel at home here,” Dolan said, underlining that Poles have welcomed Ukrainians as their own people, calling it an inspiring example of welcoming the stranger.
“They want the people in their homes; they want their children at school; they want them to feel part of them. They don’t want them to be isolated in camps and settlements,” he said.
In front of a tent operated by the Catholic charity Caritas at Krakow’s main train station, Dolan recorded a video message stressing that one may go to Rome to see the church with its magnificent history and churches, but given the massive Polish response to the war, “if you really want to see the church, come to Krakow.”
Caritas Poland has raised $21 million since the war started, distributing half of that sum directly to dioceses that organize the most needed help, including reception centers for refugees at the borders and train stations. In addition, $29 million in humanitarian help has been sent to Ukraine through regional Caritas offices.
American Catholics have been equally generous. The Knights of Columbus alone have raised $15 million for Ukraine.
“Every week, we spend $100,000 for humanitarian aid, including food, medicine, water and clothes sent to Ukraine,” Szymon Czyszek, Director of International Growth in Europe for the Knights told Crux.
“Dolan’s trip was an important sign for us here in Poland, because the tendency after more than two months of war in Ukraine is that the initial interest would be fading. With his visit he has shown it’s the contrary, that Americans still care, and we’re grateful because the needs are tremendous.”
Parishes in Poland immediately rolled up their sleeves when the war started. Father Jan Przybocki, for example, welcomed a family to his own rectory, seven people in all, and his parishioners took another 100 into their houses.
On April 29th, Przybocki greeted Dolan at his parish church 20 kilometers outside of Krakow.
“I couldn’t believe how joyful and open of a person the cardinal is,” Przybocki told Crux. “We welcomed him traditionally with bread and salt, and then he enjoyed a meal prepared by the Ukrainian ladies that live in our rectory at the moment.”
The church in Bibice was full of both Ukrainian refugees and Poles helping them when Dolan arrived.
“When I meet the refugees, I told them you are suffering much because you worry about your homeland, you had to leave your homes, you had to leave your husbands and fathers,” Dolan told Polish Television. ”But I am here as the Archbishop of New York to say we love you, we are with you, we care for you, every day we think of you, every day we pray for you, every day we’re trying to gather what you need to send over. You are not alone!”
The visit of the American cardinal included stops at border crossings, warehouses, and shelters both in Poland and Slovakia. He also managed to cross the border and go to Ukraine, visiting the city of Lviv.
“As you know, we didn’t see any bombs, we didn’t hear any violence or attacks because that’s more in the East, but we did detect an ominous sentiment that they are worried. It’s coming,” he said.
With checkpoints, sandbags, soldiers with camouflage and rifles, “you know they are preparing for war, they’re preparing for an attack and this was very unsettling,” Dolan said, underlining at the same time that life constantly wins over death and fear in Ukraine.
“We saw how people go on with life. We see the kids at school, you see the men and women at work, you see the women shopping, you see the grandmas watching their grandchildren.”
Such sights, Dolan said, offer “a very beautiful lesson in God’s providential care that we will get through this.”