KRAKOW – Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, is heading to Ukraine for the fourth time since the start of the war as a sign of Pope Francis’s closeness to the Ukrainian people.
“For over 200 days the Ukrainian nation is suffering the reality of war. I am going simply to be with them,” the cardinal told Crux before leaving on Thursday.
The almoner’s role is to head the pontiff’s charitable efforts, and Krajewski has been especially tasked with leading Francis’s humanitarian efforts for Ukraine.
The Polish cardinal usually delivers his aid by car and is known for being a long distance driver: This current trip will take him to Vinnytsia and Odessa. He hopes to get as far as Kharkiv, which has been under constant artillery bombardment by the Russian military.
Although Francis recently confirmed that he wouldn’t be able to travel to Ukraine before this month’s papal trip to Kazakhstan, Krajewski emphasized his visit “isn’t a replacement trip.”
“It is yet another journey of closeness. The Holy Father himself could not come to the fighting zone in Eastern Ukraine, no leader does, but I can go as his envoy,” he told Crux.
In addition to the closeness of the pope to the Ukrainian people, Krajewski is also bringing supplies.
“I drive a minivan that I will leave in the Diocese of Kharkiv– Zaporizhnia. The van is full of papal rosaries to distribute throughout Ukraine in different dioceses.”
Krajewski will also meet the sixteen Latin rite bishops of Ukraine at a meeting where he intends to express his support and ask about the needs of particular regions.
“There is no point of bringing something that no one needs,” the cardinal said. “I will listen to the needs and provide. I already know that in one diocese wood heaters are needed. We will buy them for every church and diocesan building.”
Ukrainian towns are preparing for a harsh winter, one that local bishops expect to be the hardest since World War II. There are expectations of shortages and blockages in distribution of natural gas, electricity and water.
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Friday marks exactly six months since the first trip of the papal almoner to Ukraine. Two ambulances were driven there personally by Krajewski at the start of the war. The cardinal also spent the Holy Week and Easter in the country.
Pictures of the papal almoner praying over the mass graves in Bucha were featured around the world in April. It was a moment he himself described as “one of the most moving moments of my ministry – I remember well at some point the soil started to move and locals told me, ‘There are more graves underneath that we are only discovering.’”
A statement from the Vatican on Friday described Krajewski’s current journey as a “silent and completely evangelical trip.”
“I am going like we’re going to visit a loved one in the hospital,” the cardinal told Crux.
Krajewski is planning on staying in Ukraine for several weeks, in solidarity with the Catholic clergy – many of them foreign-born – who have stayed in the country.
“Out of 250 priests, one left Ukraine. It is almost 100 percent that stayed and they need our support. And how many religious stayed,” the cardinal noted, pointing out the religious sisters in Odessa he plans to meet. “They left for some time but as soon as it was safe for them to come back, they did so and are heroes of charity since then.”
The current journey comes as Ukraine is conducting offensives in both the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, gaining territory from the Russian military.
However, Krajewski doesn’t seem to mind the danger.
“As cardinals we’re committed to act on behalf of the Holy Father – even to the line of shedding our own blood,” he said. “Our life does not depend on a lonely bullet, but on God and God only.”
He added he’s determined to reach Eastern Ukraine.
“In a war zone, it doesn’t matter whether you have a diplomatic passport or not. Everyone is threatened,” he said.
“And this is the point: To show the Ukrainian people – we are with you, we understand you, we will walk through this together.”
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