Kharkov: A deepening friendship
The first stage of my visit was in one of the two large cities of the eastern part of the country, Kharkov. For some time, a beautiful friendship has united Christians from different denominations. At the university, an Orthodox philosophy professor organized a meeting in which we were able to speak about the life of the community and the meetings of young people. Also in Kharkov, a visit was planned in another city of the country that was not initially foreseen: a sign that the Christians of the East and the West are getting to know one another and, over time, creating a network of friendship.
Dniepropetrovsk: The living memory of last century’s sufferings
Next, I had to make my way to Dniepropetrovsk, a city on the Dniepr, the river that runs through the entire country from north to south. Besides a meeting at the university of law and economics, I was able to visit in a neighboring village a place where a church was entirely destroyed in the last years of the Soviet regime. Since then, the memory of this very difficult time has remained alive.
Dovbysh: The joy of being together
After a night on the bus, I entered the Zhytomir region in order to participate in a weekend of sharing and prayer with the young people preparing to come to Taizé this summer; some had also taken part in the last meeting in Rotterdam. Songs from Taizé, excellent Ukrainian food, small reflection groups: we spent some very good moments with these fifty young people. Meditative in prayer, they knew also how to burst forth with the true joy of being together. Before my departure, a young man asked me to pray for him — again a sign of trust to welcome with gratitude.
Lviv: Faith in the Resurrection, the vehicle towards communion
Still today, recent history is seen in different ways that can create real tension within the country. In this tense context, it was a joy to participate in the anniversary of the founding of Lviv, the big city of the west. Around the central square of Rynok, traditional singing, children in traditional garb, and different events created an atmosphere of joy. At midday on Sunday, representatives from all the city’s churches offered, in turn, a prayer of blessing. All of them found themselves either beginning or ending their prayer with the words: “Christ is risen!” Never in my life have I heard this Easter greeting as much as I did in the course of my two weeks’ visit... Still in Lviv, we were warmly welcomed at the “Hearts Home,” which began its social work there five years ago.
Kiev : From the Ukrainian capital to Taizé... and vice-versa
Finally, I got to spend a few days in the capital of the country. There, I met up with a group of young Orthodox Kievans who had just come home from a stay in Taizé. I had the privilege, for the few days I was there, to share in the day-to-day life of a Ukrainian family. As in each of my stays in the different cities, I was welcomed very generously. In the course of this final visit, I spent time especially visiting friends, praying in the crypt of a Catholic church, and sharing with the Orthodox Christians about the recent pilgrimage of Brother Alois to Moscow. At the Mohyla University of Kiev, contacts are developing with the Saint Clement Centre and links of friendship deepening.
Ukraine is a captivating country. It is a crossroad of different cultural and ecclesial traditions. The fact that children often grow up learning both Ukrainian and Russian gives them an openness to the world at a very young age. Though the economic crisis is still making itself felt, sports lovers will speak a lot about Ukraine in the next year because of the upcoming Euro 2012 soccer tournament to be held jointly with Poland. Personally, I was able to experience everywhere that the local churches were truly “places of heartfelt kindness and trust — places where we welcome each other” (Letter from Chile).