In Kharkiv, Ukraine, a drawing competition organized by the local Caritas organization was held to introduce the Pope to the work of children at constant risk of bombing and to make them feel the closeness of the Holy Father. In total, more than 100 drawings were drawn. The drawing process brought a lot of joy to both the little artists and their parents.
Svitlana Duhoviča – Vatican
The contest was called “The Pope is my best friend”. As the Director of Caritas of the Diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporizhya, Father Wojciech Stasevich, says, the idea of the contest was born spontaneously. In autumn, when Cardinal Konrad Krajewski came to Kharkiv, he brought humanitarian aid, which he asked to distribute to the residents. On receiving a package of help, the eldest son of a family asked who had sent it. The volunteer from the Caritas organization answered that the package was brought by Cardinal Krajewski, but he was sent to Ukraine by Pope Francis. The boy, who had no exposure to religious education, became interested in who the Pope was. The volunteer told in simple words about the Holy Father and his support for Ukraine. “Then Pope Francis is our best friend,” concluded the teenager.
It was this testimony that prompted Father Wojciech to organize a drawing contest last Advent to promote children’s knowledge of the Pope. The priest tells about the harsh reality in which the children of Kharkiv live. They have to spend a lot of time in shelters, which are often just basements under buildings. Some families go there when they hear the alarm, while others go down every evening so that they don’t have to get up at night and rush in case of a possible bombardment. In the Caritas center, which is also set up in the shelter, children can spend part of the day doing drawing, music, physical activities and having a meal provided by the organization. Some children are brought by their parents, others are collected by volunteers directly from the bomb shelters below the houses.
Ukrainian children are getting used to the war and it is terrible to hear that. Priest Stasevich tells about a girl who was asked where she feels better – at home or in the Caritas shelter. She replied that she is in the shelter because she can be with her friends here. Children may seem to accept the conditions of war, but the truth is that they suffer more than anyone. The children’s parents find that they often wake up at night, have bad dreams, scream in their sleep, some say something… These are all concrete effects of war. Another problem is that in Kharkiv and its surroundings, education is conducted only online. All schools in the city and region are closed, as 70% of the buildings are unusable. They are either completely destroyed or undermined. Too often there is a lack of electricity and Internet connection, then everything has to stop. This has a very negative impact on the education and training of children and young people.
In this context, the drawing competition “Pope Francis is my best friend” served as an incentive for children and teenagers to devote themselves to art, as well as to get to know a person who most of them had never heard of. In order to draw the Pope, the participants of the competition had to use the pictures they could see on the Internet. “But what surprised me the most,” says priest Wojciech, “is that none of these more than 100 drawings were repeated. In many of them, the Pope is depicted with children, Ukrainian national symbols and symbols of peace are visible. So, the drawings reflect the children’s view of what the Pope is and what Ukraine is going through right now.”
Pope Francis has already expressed his closeness to the suffering Ukraine many times. Priest Wojciech says that it is very important for the local people, both believers and non-believers, to realize that the Holy Father thinks about Ukraine, cares about it and reminds the world that its people must suffer from military aggression. The Pope often says that one should not get used to war. “It is impossible to get used to war in Kharkiv,” notes the director of Caritas, “we have learned to live in war conditions, but we don’t need to get used to it.” The Pope’s words give great moral and spiritual comfort to the people living here.
Life in Kharkiv is hard. There are problems with electricity and heating, many houses are destroyed, there is a lack of work and people continue to flock to the city from all over the region in the hope of finding better living conditions. There are bombings every second or third day. In order to bring a little light into this darkness, the organizers of the drawing competition had decided to invite around 15 authors of the best drawings to the Assumption Cathedral. On Sunday, January 8, the children participated in the Holy Mass together with their relatives. At its conclusion, the Bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhya, Pavlo Honcharuk, presented prizes to both the children and their parents. “It was beautiful to see how much joy was brought by the competition, which at first seemed so simple,” confesses priest Wojciech Stasevich.
Prepared for publication Ines Steinert