(OSV News) — Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, papal almoner and prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity went to Ukraine for the seventh time to open the Mercy House of Shelter for women and children in Lviv Sept. 22.
The house was already under construction when the war broke out Feb. 24, 2022, but the main work on it has been done amid the war.
“It’s been a massive challenge,” Cardinal Krajewski told OSV News. “The workers were either called to military service or had to leave the construction site for hours because of sirens warning them to go to the shelter,” he said.
“But now it’s ready, beautiful and spacious,” he told OSV News when driving back to Rome from Lviv Sept. 22.
The house, run by Albertine Sisters, was built to support people who fled their homes in Ukraine, but did not want to leave the country, and sought refuge in Lviv, which is located in western Ukraine, where life is less dangerous than in the east of the country.
Various donors, including Pope Francis, helped to build the Mercy House of Shelter. Single mothers and widows whose husbands died defending the country — with their children — will live in the house. It also will have a space for homeless people.
“A group of homeless people joined us for the opening. They will have their showers there, there is a beautiful dining room. It is in the heart of the Gospel,” Cardinal Krajewski said.
A soup kitchen for the poor also has been planned within the facility, “to give them a hot meal and a welcoming place,” he said.
Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv and the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, also were present.
Auxiliary Bishop Edward Kawa of Lviv told OSV News that “what this war has also shown us is that we have more and more such people who are actually left behind, especially in the winter, on the streets.” The house was built not only to save them from their misery, but also their children, oftentimes, unborn.
“When it comes to saving human lives, we have those vulnerable unborn children. A woman who is pregnant with a child, and is on the street, is often afraid to give that child a chance. And if she knows that she has a place where she will have a roof over her head, where all the basic conditions will be secured for her and for her child, it gives her the courage to let that child be born and come into this world,” Bishop Kawa said.
The house is now ready to receive guests and residents. After the official opening, hierarchs and the authorities of Lviv ate lunch together with the homeless and needy.
“The atmosphere was like in a family,” Cardinal Krajewski said. The check for the meal was on the pope.
The mayor of the city, Andriy Sadovyi, then invited the cardinal to join him for a visit to the hospital for soldiers who lost their limbs during the war. The name of the hospital unit is “The Undefeated.” But it was a later visit to the Lviv City Hall that touched the prefect the most.
“The mayor invited us because there was a funeral of a soldier in the city. And the tradition, started by Mayor Sadovyi during the war, is that the funeral convoy stops by the City Hall, not far from the Lviv cathedral, and all the officers, with the mayor himself, step out of their offices to pay homage to the soldier,” Cardinal Krajewski said.
“It was an unbelievably touching moment. And it happens sometimes several times during the day, and the mayor always comes out with red roses to put on the coffin in honor of the fallen soldier,” he said.
Cardinal Krajewski learned in Lviv that the victim of the recent Russian drone attack on the humanitarian warehouse of Caritas-Spes in the city was a father of three who fought in the Ukrainian armed forces for 15 months.
“He just came back from the front. It was his first day at work in the warehouse with humanitarian supplies,” the cardinal said.
Among the items destroyed in the warehouse were 33 pallets of food kits, 10 pallets of hygiene kits and cans, 10 pallets with generators and clothing — a total of about 300 tons of humanitarian goods. The entire winter load that would have been distributed to all corners of Ukraine was there, only waiting to be sent where it was most needed.
“The victim of this attack left behind three little children, so I couldn’t decide otherwise but left the widow and the children a gift from the Holy Father that should supply them for at least several months. That’s the least we could do in this situation,” the cardinal said.
The Mercy House of Shelter, the cardinal said, is “a drop in the ocean of needs, but as Mother Teresa said — every sea consists of drops,” Cardinal Krajewski said.
“It needs to be underlined that despite the tragedy of Russian bombing of humanitarian supplies, despite all the hatred and anger around, we open the Mercy House next door, an ecumenical house that will unite,” he said.
The cardinal underscored that, again, the church shows that women’s presence and heart are needed in the church’s charity works.
“Like in the Gospel — women stood by the cross, women announced the resurrection, and now those Albertine Sisters represent the merciful Jesus,” Cardinal Krajewski said.
“They will take care of all people, whether Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic or Orthodox, no matter where they come from, because the church is for all,” he said.
Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @Guzik_Paulina.