Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).
This year’s Ash Wednesday collection, which will be taken at Masses across the U.S. on Feb. 22, will send aid to the Church in war-torn Ukraine and Eastern Europe, where they have helped support Catholics since the fall of communism.
In 2022, the bishops found themselves in the unusual position of having to minister to a Church heavily impacted by a major war in Ukraine.
Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe (CCEE), told CNA that the generosity of American Catholics in response to the war was “unprecedented.”
“When the first bombs struck Ukraine nearly a year ago, aid was already coming in from Catholics in the United States through the U.S. bishops’ Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe,” a Tuesday press release by the USCCB and CCEE said.
Where the money went in 2022
Though the USCCB has not yet issued a full report for 2022, Jennifer Healy, director of the CCEE, told CNA that $8.5 million was raised for the Church in central and eastern Europe in 2022.
This enabled the bishops to send over $3 million (36% of the money raised) to fund projects in Ukraine and the surrounding nations to care for refugees impacted by the violence.
According to the Tuesday press release, in the first few months of the war, the bishops expedited nearly 50 emergency grants to churches and Catholic groups in Eastern Europe to help relieve the suffering Ukrainian people.
As Russian tanks rolled through the Ukrainian countryside and bombs leveled whole city blocks at a time, funds from the CCEE were providing vital humanitarian relief in the form of food, clothing, shelters, medical, and other basic needs, such as generators, heat pumps, and vehicles to transport aid and refugees.
One grant funded by the collection even provided the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church satellite communications so it could coordinate efforts to give shelter, first aid, food, and spiritual ministry to Ukrainians caught in the conflict.
American Catholic support of Ukraine
Monforton, who has been able to travel to Eastern Europe to meet and minister to Ukrainian refugees, said that they were filled with gratitude for the support of the American faithful.
“You can see the fear and the anxiety in the eyes of all those who are refugees,” Monforton said. “At the same time they took a moment of their time to thank us … what is evident in their lives is the solidarity of others, including us here in the United States.”
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the USCCB, personally visited Ukraine at the end of December 2022 in an official visit to Church leaders ministering to Ukraine’s soldiers and suffering civilians.
Taras Dobko, senior vice rector at the Ukrainian Catholic University, told CNA that Broglio’s visit to the war-torn country was perceived as a show of solidarity “on behalf of all American Catholics.”
“We, Ukrainians, felt embraced through this visit with hope that the good will prevail and the suffering of our nation will not be in vain,” Dobko said.
“Whenever peace reigns again — God willing, soon — and the time for rebuilding arrives,” Healy said, “the USCCB fund will continue to support the Church and be a strong partner in that massive effort.”
U.S. Catholics have been helping for decades
The Ash Wednesday collection has sent more than $200 million to the Church in 28 nations in central and eastern Europe since 1991, according to Healy.
Bishop Monforton told CNA that the collection funds projects to restore the Catholic faith in the nations that suffered anti-Catholic subjugation under the former Soviet Union.
Under communism, Monforton said, religion was actively persecuted, and atheism was propagated as the law of the land.
In Albania, one of the nations the collection supports, Monforton explained that anyone who so much as expressed belief in Christianity would be killed.
The collection funds the rebuilding of churches, schools, and ministries to help the faithful in nations from Estonia to Albania, where decades of suppression under communist rule continue to negatively impact the culture and Church.
Where the money went in 2021
The most recent full CCEE report available is from 2021. The 2021 report issued by the USCCB said that the Eastern European fund raised nearly $6.5 million.
The largest portion of those funds (31.27%) was used to rebuild 79 places for Catholics to worship, teach, and carry out social ministry.
The next largest portion (14.5%) supported 74 evangelization efforts in eastern and central Europe.
The remaining portions of the fund were used for scholarships, Catholic education, support for seminaries, social aid, and some was used for administrative costs.
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