St Francis of Assisi -
Christ the King -
My first visit to Sumy was indeed an interesting experience. I was delighted to see a thriving parish community there, and to see first hand what difference our support has made to them and to the projects run by the parish too.
Like any community that has been through persecution and oppression, I could see how much they value their faith and rejoice in the freedom they were once denied. The memories of those days of suppression by the communist regime are still vivid in the minds of most of the people, and I could feel the fervour with which they celebrate their faith now.
I was told that the number of people coming to Mass has steadily increased, and there is every sign of a parish that is growing and flourishing. The very fact that three young women from the parish community are going to join religious orders and one young man (Yura) is getting ready to be ordained, is a clear indication of a community that is growing with a lively faith.
Fr.Voitek and his assistant Fr.Andrei, are giving a dynamic leadership to the parish community and their enthusiasm and hard work are bearing fruits (I have to admit I can't match their enthusiasm to give a half hour homily on weekdays!). And I would like to mention that Anna, the organist with her beautiful voice, gives a special touch to the celebrations of the liturgy.
To conclude, I would say that our support and friendship over the past 12 years has made a vital contribution to the growth of the parish community in Sumy, and we can rejoice and be proud that we could make a difference to some of our brothers and sisters who were really in need!
Visiting The Sick by Anne Aitken
Sumy Friday 31st July 2009
Today we split into two groups to visit sick parishioners. Fr. Pius, Jasmine and I go with Fr. Andrei and Yuri Sema (a seminarian). Our first visit is to Valentina who is known to our parish through fundraising which we do every year to help with her care. Valentina has been unable to leave her bed for over a quarter of a century! She is delighted to have visitors, and through Yuri, welcomes us. Fr. Andrei gives her Communion and Fr. Pius gives a special I blessing. Before we leave, Valentina's elderly aunt Ulyana and her carer join the group to have a photograph taken.
Our second visit is to Yuri's grandmother. She is 86 years old and very frail. Yuri introduces us and we each greet her with a kiss. She receives Communion followed by a blessing from Fr. Pius. Yuri sits by her and encourages her to tell us a little about her life. She was in Leningrad during the (German) blockade for 500 days, only managing to escape with false papers. From there she went to the front line to work as a nurse. Talking has tired her, so we say 'goodbye' using the common language of hugs and kisses.
A Day Of Reflection by Helen Zammit-
Our day began with Father Pius presiding over a Mass in English at the church of the Annunciation. It was the first Mass held in the church where the priests were assisted by a female altar server -
After this historic occasion, we departed in three cars for a relatively short journey, which ended at a place called Kiyanitsa. This was a 19th century "park palace", which had been built by a rich man who was also the proud owner of a collection of cars. We were shown a publication with photographs of the house, car collection and very well cared for park land. The house had been very grand -
In the grounds was a large lake, which is popular for fishing and swimming, and dotted around the lake were shelters with picnic benches underneath.
Father Andrei led our group, which included Marina and Oksana, in a day of reflection. We started with a prayer, and then Father Andrei explained how we could learn a lot by studying the Old Testament, despite the fact that we were separated from them by belonging to a different age and culture. He split the group into three and set each smaller group an exercise to consider the lives of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. Each group had extracts from the bible about their lives and three or four questions to consider. The groups split up and found a quiet part of the park to sit down and discuss the exercise that had been set, making notes so that they could report back when we met up again in an hour or so for lunch.
Anne, Marina and David considered the life of Abraham, including God's promise for him to be the father of a great nation, the challenges facing Abraham and Sarah, and God's request that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac.
Father Pius, Peter and I considered the life of Joseph, including whether he was a pampered child, how he had suffered in slavery, and his motives in being the Pharaoh's "right hand man".
John, Oksana and Jasmine considered the life of Moses, including why God chose him to lead His people out of Egypt, whether Moses understood what God wanted from him and how he felt about undertaking this task.
Everyone brought a different viewpoint to the discussions, but what was evident in every case was that God had a purpose for their life, and that the individual had to put their trust in God, no matter what difficulties they encountered. From this we could learn that everything that we encountered had a reason, and that we should also put our trust in God.
This day of reflection, in beautiful and idyllic surroundings, was a welcome interlude in a very busy programme of visiting our friends in Sumy. It provided "food for thought" for everyone involved.