Dear Vincentian Friends,
Right now, you should be reading a Lenten message from Bishop Hying, our National Episcopal Advisor. The events in Ukraine, however, have gripped all of us, and many have asked if our Society has been preparing to provide aid to refugees and other victims of the war. Please look for the bishop’s message next week, and allow me to tell you what I know about the Society’s response to the situation in and around Ukraine.
It may seem inadequate, but let’s not forget to pray for peace and the people of Ukraine. The Vincentian Family had a worldwide prayer call yesterday. You can still view that call here: youtube.com/watch?v=_fNGEm8ZGQM&t=168s.
As Vice President for Solidarity and Special Projects for the Council General International, I am engaged in our international twinning relationships and our disaster relief efforts through the Society’s Commission for International Aid and Development (CIAD). We are currently making inquiries of the Councils in the countries receiving thousands of refugees. There is clearly an immediate need in the countries that border Ukraine. What I can tell you is that the Society does not have a strong presence in this area of Europe. At the end of this letter, I have shared some detailed information about the Society in some of the countries near Ukraine.
Please do not plan to make donations until we have a clear purpose for your contributions. You may recall that when we made our annual disaster appeal last summer, a portion of those contributions were designated for international use. Our Councils and Conferences were very generous then, and we will therefore be able to provide help as soon as we receive more information. If we need more assistance, we will certainly let you know. I remind you that our Councils and Conferences cannot donate to any organization outside the Vincentian Family.
We are investigating our options for providing help, and those may include directing assistance through other member organizations of the Vincentian Family. We have funds from the U.S. already in place at our CIAD office in Paris; we just need to have appropriate proposals from the countries closest to the situation. Designated funds provided without plans for their appropriate use have left literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in accounts that can remain unused for many years. We must be sure we have the capacity to deliver the aid in the areas with the need. We also must be able to ensure accountability for the proper use of any funds sent.
Allow me to share some observations about our ability to help people suffering in these situations. First, I see that our members are very generous. If we lack an active presence and the mobilization capacity to put a generous response to work, however, our Society is not able to serve those in need. In the future we must also devote resources to building the Society’s presence throughout our country and throughout the world. Building the network of charity Frederic Ozanam envisioned is still a work in progress. There is no national Council in the world that is more generous in providing disaster relief than our U.S. National Council. We can do better, however, in our Twinning efforts to provide effective support for new and struggling Conferences in countries with limited resources. Let’s renew those efforts.
Even here in the United States, where the Society is strong, we have realized a need to strengthen our capacity to respond to disasters. That is why we have formed and supported our Disaster Services Corporation, which brings excellent know-how to our Councils when they are called upon to respond to unpredictable events that strike their communities. We are fortunate here to be able to draw upon DSC expertise.
I also observe how we tend to be moved to help people whose stories are part of major events covered for multiple days in the news. In my role, I see how our Society helps many suffering in the aftermath of disasters that may barely make world news. In the last several months, we provided assistance to our members in Brazil, where there was a major landslide that killed several hundred people. In the last few months, we have aided victims of disasters you probably don’t remember or maybe never heard about. With funds we provided through the Society’s office in Paris, we have helped address disaster-induced suffering in the Philippines, Madagascar, Tonga, Burundi, Malawi, and Mozambique.
As with all disasters, the need coming out of Ukraine will go on for many years. In Ukraine, we have a small Vincentian presence of just three Conferences. Last I had heard, we have not had any communication from them. Let us continue to pray for them and for all those suffering in and near Ukraine, as well as for those in our country and throughout the world coping with disaster and conflict. Let us pray for peace.
Serviens in spe,
National Council President
P.S. Here is some of specific information that has been shared with me:
Poland – The Society has only a handful of Conferences here. As far as I know, there is no structured National Council and little tradition of lay Catholic organizations in Poland. This is probably the place most in need of our assistance, but information on the location and activity of Polish Conferences is lacking.
Romania – The Society does have a properly constituted National Council here. That Council’s twinning officer is in constant communication with Society twinning partners in England and Wales. The report is that Conferences from Turt and Oradea are working with refugees in Sighet, near the border with Ukraine in northwest Romania. At Traian in northeast Romania, members are providing food and clothing at a retreat center that has turned itself into accommodations for refugees. Within the Society, Romania also has twinning links with Italian South Tyrol & Austria and has received donations from Germany.
Hungary — There is a small National Council in Hungary, twinned with Scotland. Hungary has only a relatively short border with Ukraine.
Slovakia — There is a National Council here, but I have no detail about Slovakian members’ capacity to assist.
Moldova – Although there is no national structure here, a group from Romania did go to Chisinau (Moldova’s capital) and set up at least one Conference a few years ago.