Kathryn Lopez: Life during wartime

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2022

We are watching something quite foreign as we watch Russia attack Ukraine. It’s not the bombing of everything from maternity wards to nuclear power plants, though those atrocities are shocking. But in the midst of the inhumanity of war, we are also seeing some of the best of humanity. Radical hospitality is on display in Ukraine, and that’s what can be quite foreign to Americans.

Though we are a nation of immigrants, our track record on welcoming them, to say nothing of refugees, has not been great. Currently, we have an illegal immigration crisis, but also exhibit a bipartisan cruelty toward true refugees fleeing genocide and other persecution. (For all its lip service to religious freedom, the Trump administration wasn’t as generous to Iraqi Christians and others fleeing the evil of ISIS as it should have been.)

The Knights of Columbus are among those making a difference at home and abroad. As soon as the war began, the Catholic fraternal order launched a Ukraine Solidarity Fund. It’s raised over $5 million as I write. The money goes only to help Ukrainians; there is no overhead. The Knights have people on the ground in both Poland and Ukraine. There are “mercy huts” in Poland 100 yards from the border crossing. They are able to get supplies into Ukraine while feeding and providing other resources to people waiting to cross the border.

Szymon Czyszek, head of the Knights in Poland, says he is seeing a new solidarity movement on the streets of Poland, and believes it is having a transformative effect on the people there. Every morning, he receives text messages about getting families out of Kyiv.

An American Dominican priest, Patrick Briscoe, headed over in recent days. As a young cleric, he had spent months in Poland helping prepare for the 2016 visit of Pope Francis there, so knows the lay of the land, at least in a time of peace. The Dominicans have been in Ukraine for basically their entire existence — the first Dominican convent in Ukraine opened 800 years ago. They’ve been there ever since, and remain as the country is under attack.

Father Briscoe is editor of the online magazine Aleteia, and is writing about what he sees on the ground. His first dispatch told the story of a family staying at a Warsaw headquarters of the Knights in the old Jewish ghetto, bombed out during World War II and rebuilt after. For three days, a mother and her teenage son walked to the border. They obviously couldn’t bring much with them. She brought a papal medallion that belonged to her grandfather, a rosary and a heavy, gold-plated crucifix. Sacrificing meat on Fridays is nothing compared to what Christians in Ukraine are confronting.

Christianity at its best sees the image of God in the human person, and cares for and receives every person as if they were in the presence of God. This is the stuff of the Sermon on the Mount. This is what the Knights in Poland and Ukraine are doing right now. On a press call, Czyszek talked about the biblical mandate to serve widows and orphans. He says the scenes in the train stations and all around his homeland are like nothing he has ever seen. He wants the women to know they are not alone or forgotten or unwanted. “We want to carry your burdens. We want to overcome evil with good,” he said is the Knights’ message to them.

We have a lot to learn from how the Knights and others are stepping up to the plate to help their neighbors in need.

(Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.)