Italy – Fr. Antúnez (Missioni Don Bosco): "The greatest is not he who’ll say he’s won, but he who best served the cause of his people"

01 March 2023

(ANS - Turin) – Fr. Daniel Antúnez, head of the Salesian Mission Office "Missioni Don Bosco" in Turin, was in Ukraine immediately after the outbreak of war. He shared the concern and commitment of the Salesians in Lviv and Kyiv to save children without families, saw with his own eyes the women fleeing with their young children... And, with the Salesians and the workers of the Mission Office, did much in these past 12 months to alleviate the suffering of the Ukrainian people. Here is what he shares today, more than a year after the outbreak of war.

Fr. Daniel, what do you remember about your trip just a few days after the beginning of the war?

I was impressed by the disbelief of the people, who until February 23 thought that Russian threats could not be translated into aggression. And still after the first few days, they had hope that the war would not last so long. Today, instead, the deepest fear is that this conflict is destined to become an endemic reality, a fire that no one knows when it will extinguish itself. The situations in Syria, which has been at war for 10 years, and of the Congo, with its guerrilla episodes that have continued for 30 years, teach us this.

And yet, a way out of this tragic situation shall have to be found.

The way is to let our guard down. "The greatest is not he who will say he has won, but he who best served the cause of his people," it says in the Gospel. As in conflicts between individuals, families, groups, even between nations, one can reason how much better is the one who knows to renounce something for the sake of the greater good. This is not losing; it is being great.

This is a consideration that neither side likes, in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict as in any other.

The Pope said that the great evil of the world is the arms race. Returning from the Congo, he pointed out that one year's spending on arms is equivalent to the food needs of the whole of Africa. We see poverty, moral misery, needs that are never met -- and there is war.

Why support development projects in countries at war?

We at "Don Bosco Missions" try to restore a balance, through education and the creation of opportunities for the development of those communities. Wars do not have the effect of bringing everyone to the same level; on the contrary, they are multipliers of corruption, discrimination, and violence. In such cases, it may seem that outside help can be destroyed, but through our missionaries - even in Ukraine right now - we reach the people who need it most, we help them survive in the absence of protection; we make sure that young people can nurture their dreams.

Resistance to prepare for a post-war era, for the material and moral reconstruction of Ukraine?

Of course. We are the bridge that brings help even in seemingly dead-end situations. This helps nurture hope that it is possible to end the war. Together with Pope Francis, who every Sunday does not miss the occasion of the Angelus to ask the world to pray for peace, we too trust that a higher force is the only one that can help humanity untangle itself from the chains of hatred.

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