My summer began with the graduation ceremony and departure of our 15 (LCI) Eastern European students. They were such a blessing and their diversity and internal beauty often brought us great joy and fellowship. In June, we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the beginnings of the Language and Catechetical Institute in Gaming, Austria. Many of our alumni priests, families, friends and guests participated in this grace-filled week. During this week-long celebration, I attended a course on writing Icons. This was a part of my Byzantine formation classes. A priest from Eastern Slovakia guided the course and it was truly an amazing, prayer filled experience to learn the art of icon writing/painting.
At the end of the week, I departed with my team for my summer missionary outreaches. We began by making a pilgrimage with Fr. Joseph to a miraculous tear shedding icon of Our Lady of Poch in Vienna and Hungary. We went to ask our Lady’s protection and intercession for all of our summer endeavors. Following our pilgrimage, we began our two-week program with an Orphanage in Korolevo, Ukraine. The orphanage is run by a Greek Catholic priest and the Sr.s of St. Joseph, also of Greek Catholic (Byzantine) rite. In the morning, my colleague and I worked with the orphans to create an English talent show and in the afternoon, we had classes with the kindergarten that was also run by the Sisters. In our leisure time, we played with the children, helped in the garden, kitchen and with some household chores. Each one of them carries such a tragic story but that is relieved by the great love and acceptance of Fr. Ivan and the Sisters. One of our highlights was taking a field trip with the children to Uzhgorod, an important historical city close to Korolevo. What made the most impact on me was the fact that I was seeing with my own eyes and touching with my hands the “living under ground church” that survived the trial of communism and soviet occupation. I have prayed at the tombs of martyrs and seen houses that were once used as churches. I am so grateful to all of you for allowing me to experience the vastness and faithfulness of the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe.
After leaving Ukraine, I spent two weeks at a Greek Catholic Camp for young people between the ages of 7-17. It was so incredible to see these kids truly on fire with their faith and to see their efforts in learning and speaking English. With the younger children, I did a workshop with many fun games, songs and activities. They loved to sing English religious songs! With the older students, I mostly had conversational English workshops as the students did not have a lot of confidence speaking the language. We also played many games together and did some traditional Slovak dancing. I was so blessed to see the staff and student group leaders so dedicated to keeping their faith alive.
My last summer adventure took me to Tbilisi, Georgia and some surrounding villages. This was an opportunity for me to meet Bishop Pasotto and all of his collaborators, and to see the programs that he is creating in order to keep the presence of the Catholic Church alive in a predominant country of Orthodox Christians (those who do not accept Pope Francis as Head of the Church) and Muslims. This was a very touching and eye-opening experience. I kept thinking of the image St. Peter would use with the growing Church in the first century: “Living Stones” in the house of God. After seeing so many people suffer so much for their faith, it was incredible to witness the Church still alive! The Bishop in Georgia is a very constant, but cautious presence in Georgia as there can be a lot of tension between Orthodox religion and Muslims. They are living the true Gospel of peace without compromise. Theirs is the prayer of Christ when He says: “Father, that they may all be one!”
After leaving Georgia, I returned to Gaming where we were making future plans for the completion of my program in an Eastern European country. Turns out that I have been assigned to Eastern Slovakia! The town is Bardejov if any of you would like to see where I will be teaching English and doing catechetical outreach programs. Please keep me in your prayers and know that I pray daily for your intentions and know that God will richly bless you for your generosity in serving Him through the CMC program. May God continue to be your complete recompense.
With great esteem and respect,