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Sister Mary Bernarda Arkatin, OSBM, (1922 - 2019) a member of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great, Jesus Lover of Humanity Province, initiated and continued summer journeys of goodwill to the needy, orphaned and handicapped of Ukraine for more than 20 years.
Bearing monetary gifts and treats as well as compassion and love, Sister became a frequent and welcomed visitor as she traveled from site to site, from institution to hospital, to orphanages and to campsites.
Carrying on the tradition established by Sister Bernarda to collaborate with the Basilian Sisters in Ukraine and to help the needy, Sister Ann Laszok, OSBM along with three young women accompanied Sr. Bernarda for two weeks in 2012. That trip initiated what has now become the Basilian Volunteer Program to carry on the humanitarian legacy of Sr. Bernarda.
The Basilian Volunteer Program expanded in 2015 into a week-long English Catechetical camp with at first two volunteers then with each consecutive year more camps and more volunteers in various regions of eastern and western Ukraine.
This past summer from May 23 to June 16, 2019 nine volunteers, along with Sr Monica Lesnick and Sr Ann Laszok, traveled again to Ukraine to teach at three English Catechetical camps in Mukachevo, Drohobych and Ivano-Frankivsk. Visiting orphanages, psychiatric institutions, half-way houses rounded off the days after classes.
Dennis Drost, Helen Fedoriv, Marcia Bolesky, Kim Matto, Anya Chawluk, Joyce Cahill, David Olszyk, Tersa Danovich Olszyk, Chrystyna Cech, Sr. Ann, Sr. Monica arrived in Lviv from NJ, PA, OH, OR and London, UK to get into a community of team teachers to over 180 children. The compressed schedule didn’t allow much time for sightseeing but one full day Yaremche and Bukovel in the Carpathian Mountains was a respite that all enjoyed.
The volunteers definitely gave glory to Jesus Christ for three full weeks with their service to the needy of Ukraine! Each one joined their special gifts and talents to make a beautiful mosaic of service to those we came in contact. Many great memories were made and much joy was received as well as shared with all those we encountered.
One wonderful providential blessing that happened along the way from Ivano-Frankivsk to Mukachevo was stopping off in Skole, the site of our first English camp, to locate a long-lost living relative to Chrystyna. On the way back from our Mukachevo camp Chrystyna was able to meet up with her uncle and see her mother’s home. Everyone rejoiced at Chrystyna’s blessing.
Here are some reflections by the volunteers:
“Having been home now for almost 2 months, the memories of this trip and our small group of volunteers will remain with me forever. I arrived in Ukraine for the 1st time with a completely open mind and heart. The students we taught filled my heart and left permanent memories. I was particularly interested in the homeless and drug and alcohol rehabilitation center we visited. We attended Liturgy with the Bishop celebrating the Drug and Alcohol rehabilitation Center ’s 25th Anniversar and just recently started taking women. They have several more buildings under construction / repair and will eventually be able to take families for therapy and homelessness. This was a fantastic effort by very few people and was so heartwarming to see all of their efforts. Another very special experience for me was visiting the children’s psychiatric facility. My sister had given me a set of miniature children’s picture books to give to a child and one of the young women at the psychiatric center saw my books and signaled for me to follow her, she led me directly to a little girl in a wheelchair. I said hello and gave her the picture books and received the biggest smile as she moved with joy to the dance music being played – I will never forget her (refer to pictures attached) and finally I wanted to say THANK YOU to Sister Ann and Sister Monica for allowing me to travel with them on this Mission Trip. God Bless You Both. (Marcia, 2019)
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take this trip. I know that it is easy to say "life changing", but it was. It is hard to get into the normal swing of things out here in Oregon. I am still trying to assess the experience, but it was a real blessing”. (Dave, 2019)
"May I begin by thanking you for the chance to participate in the 2019 Sisters of St Basil Mission to Ukraine. I found the experience truly humbling. Throughout the 3-week mission in Ukraine we were meeting people on a daily basis whose mission it is to help the needy whether through education or through providing the daily necessities to those in need of shelter and a variety of illnesses. In all of this it was possible to feel the hand of God guiding and supporting their efforts. It was a privilege to play a small part in this process and to join in the daily Liturgy and prayers which strengthened our resolve and understanding.
The Mission comprises individuals from all walks of life, leaving their home comforts and coming together to contribute their skills and willingness to help the needy. Coupled with this is the effort before the Mission is even in the Ukraine, publicizing the event and garnering support from those unable to physically be part of the Mission but who support it with their prayers and by donating. The common aim far surpasses the individual and results in blessings beyond our initial comprehension.
Many thanks, Sister Ann, the foundation and guiding light of the Mission and to all fellow missionaries who shared their lives and their skills imparted by God. What a great time it was!
I have many fond memories: the sisters in the monasteries we stayed in being truly ‘sisterly’, the views of the countryside as we made our (bumpy) way to and from the institutions we were visiting, the many beautiful churches we saw and the priests working so hard for their parish communities, the hopes and aspirations of the young people we met, the people whose lives are being turned around socially and physically through the efforts of those involved in the projects we visited …
As you know, Sister Ann, I for one received more than I gave. Through your help and willingness to divert, I managed to find members of my family that I truly believed were lost. It was truly a life-affirming experience which I am still processing”. (Chrystyna, 2019)