Over Easter, Father General Miguel de María Márquez Calle of the Discalced Carmelites travelled to Ukraine to support Carmelite Sisters and Brothers who have remained in the country serving those affected by the war.

After flying in to Krakow, Poland, he first stayed with the Carmelite nuns of Łobzowska. Here, he spent the evening with the sisters of Kyiv who have been staying at the Polish convent after being forced to flee their monastery due to the intense conflict. They described to Fr. Miguel the 'harshest times of war and their escape to Poland'. After sharing the Eucharist with the Sisters, Fr. Miguel travelled on to the border of Ukraine, crossing on foot with relative ease, before travelling the seven hour journey into the country to the city of Berdichev. Whilst travelling to Berdichev, Fr. Miguel passed countless soldiers, control barricades and through a city damaged by the effects of bombs.

In Berdichev, Fr. Miguel was able to celebrate Holy Thursday at the church of The Sanctuary of the Virgin of Mount Carmel. He describes his involvement in the moving service:

'I washed the feet of the friars in the community. . . I kiss the feet of my brothers who take care of all these people here. I kiss Jesus in them. . . Everyone says words of thanks for being with them. Everyone tells me, thanks to you all for praying for Ukraine. A grandmother asks me that when I go to Rome, please would I tell the Pope to come.’

Fr. Miguel woke on Good Friday to the sound of sirens and bells, warning of danger – a new air offensive must have begun however this did not prevent the celebrations of the day from continuing. The following day, Easter Saturday, a day of silence and emptiness, he made the three hour journey to the capital, Kyiv:

'As we approached Kyiv, we saw the horrors of war: tanks, trucks, houses, buildings, burnt and shelled, as if emptied of their soul. Houses and remains of vehicles that smelt of a desolate, lifeless Holy Saturday, with no apparent resurrection.'

Whilst in the capital, Fr. Miguel met with the Bishop of Kyiv, Vitaly. He was able to present Vitaly with a relic of St. Therese’s hair and describes their meeting: 'I spoke to him of the prayer of all of Carmel, right throughout the whole world: our prayer for him and for the Ukrainian Church and people.'

The following day, on Sunday of the Resurrection, Fr. Miguel experienced a harrowing day he will never forget. He firstly visited the major seminary of Kyiv which had been looted by Russian soldiers and later hit by a Russian cluster bomb which had caused terrible damage. From here, he travelled to the deserted Russian camp on the outskirts of Bucha and then on to the city itself which has now become famous for the atrocious massacres. His reaction to what he saw is sobering:

'How can human beings reach such atrocity in the middle of the year 2022? It is not a film, it is not a black and white report from the 1942s, it is not a biography that speaks about Auschwitz. The Russians left (the camp) a fortnight ago and just thinking about it makes my hair stand on end. There is fruit in the boxes, a coffee maker, hanging socks, empty vodka bottles, boots on the floor, Russian boxes containing food, vitamin pills. We trod on this ground carefully in case they had left mines; but we wanted to see and be witnesses to be able to tell the world what we had seen. A true story and not science fiction. The soul shrank, indignant, as if pierced by a cluster bomb from head to toe. My god! How is this possible? . . . We remained silent and prayed.'

After his return across the Polish border, Fr. Miguel described his lasting thoughts:

'My journey through the lands of Ukraine and Poland ends. I will never forget what I have experienced . . . Thank you for accompanying me on this terrible journey to the heart of the war. We are all at war. And together we need each other. We must be prepared with the weapons of light, let no one erase our smile and hope, it is the greatest treasure I bring from Ukraine. They are not poor massacred people, they are a people that will rise from their ashes because they have Faith and in their wound, they awaken us all to live and to stand up. Thank you for your prayers. My last word is the gratitude of the ordinary people, of the friars, of the nuns and the sisters, the smiles of the children and the kisses of the grandmothers squeezing my hands tightly and kissing them. Their thanks to all of you. They know that you will continue, that we will remain by their side no matter what. And goodness will overcome horror and cruelty. I promise you. God bless us all. “Peace be with you, it is I. Do not be afraid,” says Jesus, “Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

We thank Fr. Miguel for his descriptive account of his journey to Ukraine and to all our Carmelite brothers and sisters who remain in the country to serve those in need. We pray they are able to continue their work safely and that the war might soon come to an end. To send much-needed support to those in need due to the conflict, follow this link

Fr. Miguel's full account of his journey can be read in the Discalced Carmelite Newsletter here.