UKRAINE: Prayer and the family at the heart of the Church
By John Newton
Retreats are helping to bring families closer together in Ukraine
Families sharing meals, praying together, and going on regular retreats provide a recipe for a strong faith-filled Church, according to a bishop from Ukraine.
Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, Auxiliary Bishop of Kiev-Zhytomyr diocese, told Aid to the Church in Need that working with young families was paying dividends.
He said: "We see that our Church is very young – when you look into the church it is full of young people and young families – it's a sign for our Church."
The bishop went on to describe how families are signing up for an ongoing programme of formation.
Bishop Shyrokoradiuk said: "Once a month, six families meet with their priest to pray and discuss – like a house group for those families – and every family has their own programme of activities."
He explained that families were also expected to participate in certain activities together between their meetings with the priest.
He said: "One condition that every family has to agree on is family meals with their children every night, because it gives the opportunity to look each other in the eyes and have a proper discussion.
"In the meal they find time for each other."
As part of each family's programme of activities they also commit to reading the Gospel for a minimum of five minutes each day – and once a week they have a family dialogue where parents and children can talk with each other about any issues they want to address.
Annual retreats are key in the ongoing formation of families. Bishop Shyrokoradiuk said: "We see how much hope they bring, we have seen great results from these."
He added: "Every year we have at least two weeks set aside for these family retreats – and the families come with their children.
"So we have a programme for parents, and nuns come from different congregations to run the programme for the children – but they are always with their parents."
According to the bishop these retreats allow spouses to find time to be together that can sometimes be squeezed out with the hectic pace of modern life.
He said: "Families are busy and have little time for each other, but they can find that time on the retreat."
Stressing the importance of supporting family life, he described how a man wrote to thank the bishop after one retreat saying: "It's the first time I've had so much time with my spouse, my children, my family".
The bishop described how these programmes were also fostering vocations in Ukraine, as the family was the primary source of vocations.
He said: "It's a very good method of formation, and these families then bring forth vocations."
Bishop Shyrokoradiuk added: "We have to keep working on formation – and where this work does not take place you will not see vocations either."
Noting the growth of vocations in his diocese, he told Aid to the Church in Need there are more than 50 women's congregations and all of them have new vocations.
He said: "It is very important as their prayers are helping us. In the world today we especially need their spiritual help."
Bishop Shyrokoradiuk added: "The spiritual life is important. Of course they always have material needs – thank God Aid to the Church in Need helps them."
Aid to the Church in Need is providing subsistence help for 20 Benedictine Sisters and 12 Carmelites in the diocese, as well as a number of vital projects building and repairing churches and convents.
He went on to pay tribute to the charity's supporters, saying that they always remember them in their prayers, saying: "Thanks to all the benefactors for their help without which it would have been impossible. May God reward you."