Italy – Fr Antúnez (Don Bosco Missions): "In Ukraine we are militants for peace"

18 April 2024
Photo ©: Ester Negro

(ANS – Turin) – "In Lviv I was impressed by the cemetery in the city centre. A place where the entire community can honour fallen soldiers, but which is full of young people's graves. And in the city I have also seen many people mutilated by war." These are the words of Fr Daniel Antúnez, an Argentine Salesian and President of Missioni Don Bosco, who returned to Italy a few days ago from a trip that took him to visit the projects of the Salesians in Slovakia, Poland and especially in Ukraine a few months later.

"These missions are the tangible sign: we want to be militants for peace in response to those who generate war and violence. Weapons and bombs cause the loss of human dignity and do not allow people to recognize a brother or sister in the other." The emotion felt by Fr Antúnez on his return from Lviv and Kyiv is powerful. Missioni Don Bosco continues to work there to bring aid and support to the country invaded by Russia at the beginning of 2022.

"After the spontaneous first aid with which we also opened the doors of our Motherhouse in Valdocco to accommodate mothers with children, some pregnant women, and a few men left to expatriate because they were unable to fight, today we must ensure the effectiveness of aid. We have been operating for over two years in the organisation of canteens and in the supply of food aid, but the influx of goods must not create storage and distribution problems on the spot" explains Fr Antúnez. He adds: "Although Lviv is far from the hottest fronts of the conflict, it is often hit by missiles and drones. There, too, I felt so much fatigue, tiredness and uncertainty about what could happen not only tomorrow but also today."

The Salesians today are a direct intermediary for the Ukrainian local authorities and for the internally displaced persons of the war. "For this reason, an immediate program of interventions tailored to the needs of the communities could be created" the President of Missioni Don Bosco said. "As, for example, a van was purchased that the Salesians in Krakow use to bring the required goods to Ukraine and to return with those who expatriate to escape. In addition, the houses supported by the Salesians in various locations in the country, such as Vynnyky where we took our former pavilion from the Milan Expo, and in neighbouring areas, have been converted into centres to operate relief efforts, with an eye to the time ‘after‘ when – hopefully soon – Ukrainians will be able to return to live in their cities and will need normality."

A fundamental contribution comes from the International Volontariato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo (VIS), the Salesian NGO within which many volunteers work: "We have gained a lot of experience in high-risk areas such as Syria and Tigray, where equally devastating wars have created death and destruction, and the flight of millions of refugees", Fr Antúnez points out; however, he declares himself "never really ready for the impression made by the pain of the atrocities linked to fighting between human beings. "Yet, I was struck by the resilience of the seeds of hope we have planted over the years. I was excited to visit the Salesian family home in Lviv, with many children, most of them orphans, but also the football team made up of mutilated soldiers, the ‘Pokrova football’, which plays in the Polish championship, and the testimony of Konstiantyn, their captain, who lost his leg at the front and who, for himself and his family, seeks psychological rehabilitation in sport." "And how can we not mention" the Argentine Salesian continues "the visit to ‘Mariapolis’, a real container village that has been welcoming, for a year and a half, about 950 displaced people, including more than 300 minors."

 The mission of the Salesian Delegation has managed to continue to Kyiv to bring solidarity to the Salesian community operating in that area of the country. "We reached the capital and met the small Salesian community gathered at the shrine of Mary Help of Christians in the south-east. Here Missioni Don Bosco has contributed to the protection of the residents and young people of the oratory from bombing with the construction of a missile shelter" Fr Antúnez. "The next project we have concerns the accessibility of the structure, where people with physical and mental disabilities as a result of the war are also welcomed. In Kyiv we also managed to meet two people we had hosted at the outbreak of the conflict in Valdocco and who had subsequently returned to Ukraine to be with their families. They were happy to have us as guests in their home."

"This meeting" concludes Fr Antúnez "made me understand in depth how important it is to be here, to support this community affected by the tragedy of war, and to remain in empathy with all of them. Our Christian life invites and moves us to be close to those who suffer, and attention to Ukrainians, at this time, is a priority for Missioni Don Bosco. We want to continue to be a seed of hope, as are the words of the Pontiff who asks for peace for this people. If Pope Francis will be able to go to Ukraine in person, I and many others are ready to accompany him."


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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