Campus ministries soothe, rally shaken students over Ukraine

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Entering Yale University’s St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel, Oksana Goroshchuk spotted sunflowers adorning a candle-lit altar and thought of the fields filled with her country’s national flower near her mother’s house. grandmother in Ukraine.

A mezzo-soprano launched into a traditional folk tune that Goroshchuk used to sing growing up, and the postdoctoral medical researcher broke down in tears of grief — and gratitude for the university community’s solidarity with her homeland.

“It’s the people who support us and the people who love us,” said Goroshchuk, 32, who was born in Kyiv and whose parents recently fled the war-torn country.

Across the United States, campus ministries of different denominations are working to comfort students who, after two years of pandemic disruption and isolation, have been thrust deeper into feelings of crisis and helplessness by the war. in Ukraine.

From Ivy League schools to public institutions to Catholic universities, they hold prayer vigils, organize drives for medical supplies, and stage emotional performances of sacred music. Chaplains say religious and non-religious students, especially those with relatives in war zones, urgently need a sense of community to help them cope.

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“One of the best things we do in campus ministry is foster community,” said Lisa Reiter, director of campus ministry at Loyola University Chicago.

At the Wednesday night peace benefit concert at Yale, dozens of attendees gazed quietly at the image of a crucified Jesus Christ holding a dove, backlit by the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. Cello suites, organ pieces, classical violin and piano melodies and Ukrainian Orthodox chant echoed through the chapel.

“There is this mass movement from Russia to take the lives of Ukrainians. But they can’t take away the culture, and they can’t take away the language or the song,” said Sofiya Bidochko, a 19-year-old Yale student from Lviv, Ukraine. “I feel the importance of preserving my Ukrainian identity when I hear these songs.”

Up north, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, the campus Hillel organization recently hosted several Ukrainian students for a Shabbat dinner, where they dined with matzo dumpling soup and deli sandwiches. Members of the Jewish group listened to their guests talk about their homes and families and promised to support them.

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“It was just nice to have that bit of community,” said Yevheniia, a 20-year-old student who came to the dinner even though she was baptized an Orthodox Christian and considers herself an agnostic.

She asked that her surname be withheld to protect her parents – they live in an area of ​​eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and recently texted her saying they were going to a bomb shelter.

Also this month, at the University of Rhode Island, an interfaith peace vigil brought together people of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths in prayer. A Buddhist chaplain strikes a Tibetan singing bowl to mark a minute of silence for those suffering and being killed in Ukraine.

Organizers emphasized the importance of not only making divine calls, but also taking concrete, earthly actions, and provided resources for students to do so.

“Prayer alone is not enough,” said Amy Olson, president of the university’s chaplains’ association and executive director of her Hillel group. “We really focused on ways people could make charitable donations or contribute funds to help the cause, how they could write to their politicians or offer support to the local Ukrainian community.”

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A similar solidarity vigil was held at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. And at Loyola University Chicago, the campus ministry partnered with the newly re-created Ukrainian student club to organize a drive for 60 tons of medical supplies for war relief.

Campus ministers at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, raised money for humanitarian aid at church services and say about $700 was placed in collection baskets during the only masses on Ash Wednesday. A kiosk was also set up with a scannable QR code for online donations.

The school is home to many Somali American students who attended a recent prayer for peace. As children of refugees or refugees themselves, they have seen first-hand the horrors of war and “shocked themselves” to see them repeated in Ukraine, said Muslim chaplain Sadaf Shier.

Many chaplains said distance learning and the lack of socializing and sharing rituals during the pandemic have frayed the social fabric that would normally help ease the struggles and anxieties of students, some of whom fear hostilities in Ukraine does not overflow borders and ignite a world. Third war.

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This means their mission has changed, focusing less on worship and more on helping young adults re-engage with each other and the world. Often this involves channeling their concerns into charitable work.

“Students have been trying to figure out what to do,” said Sister Jenn Schaaf, assistant Catholic chaplain at Yale.

The mezzo-soprano whose performance at Yale moved Goroshchuk to tears was Karolina Wojteczko, a Polish native who recently graduated from college and is now music director at St. Thomas More.

Wojteczko was inspired to organize the concert by the distress she noticed among her friends in Eastern Europe and America. That included Russians, who she said are “shunned from communities right now.” A student with family in Ukraine and Russia confessed to feeling completely lost.

The concert helped people unite, cope and heal.

“After COVID, everyone’s been so separated,” Wojteczko said, “and it’s…a way of just sitting down and being, and participating, and feeling like you’re connected to people who have need help in the world.”

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Dell’Orto reported from Minneapolis and Fam from Cairo. AP visual reporter Jessie Wardarski contributed from New Haven.

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