Good Shepherd Parish supports Ukrainian refugees in Polish village
COLLEYVILLE — The Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has become a prolonged battle for the country that has driven millions of Ukrainians to flee their homes as refugees.
It’s a conflict that has drawn the attention of the world and inspired a Catholic parish in Colleyville to take action.
As of August, more than 11 million Ukrainians fled their homes, with roughly 2 million of them fleeing to neighboring Poland, where news reports say they generally have been warmly received and aided. Poland is due west of Ukraine.
In the small village of Harmęże in southern Poland, a community of a little more than 600 people, the Center of St. Maximilian Kolbe at the friary and church of the Immaculate Mother of Jesus, a community of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, has taken in Ukrainian refugees.
At first there were about 150 refugees. Now they number about 50, said Father Michael J. Higgins, TOR, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville, which is also staffed by Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular. Fr. Higgins’ parishioners mounted an on-going campaign earlier this year to financially assist the Polish friars in caring for the displaced Ukrainians.
“I heard about this friary and the immigrants that they are serving from a friend who is serving as a General Councilor in Rome, Father Jude Winkler,” Fr. Higgins said.
To date, Fr. Higgins said his parish has raised $88,830.08 for the support of the refugees, and the Colleyville church has forwarded the funds through the Fort Worth Diocese to the Polish friars each month.
“The refugees in Harmęże are the spouses and children of first-responders (primarily firefighters) in Ukraine,” Fr. Higgins said.
Fr. Higgins said that at first, there were more than 150 refugees, but Father Kazimierz Malinowski, the Guardian (or Superior) of the Polish friars, told Fr. Higgins that many refugees returned to Kiev, Ukraine, after the Russian forces were repulsed from the city. Now, roughly a third remain with the friars in Harmęże, Fr. Higgins said.
The money raised by the parishioners in Colleyville has been used for daily necessities such as basic utilities (electricity, heating, food, etc.) and for healthcare, Fr. Higgins said.
For example, he said that one of the women was diagnosed with breast cancer during her stay in Poland and Good Shepherd donations assisted in paying for her care.
“The effort is extremely important to me,” Fr. Higgins said. “I have encouraged our parishioners to help out in whatever way they could — especially through agencies like Catholic Relief Services. However, I think that a direct connection with real people and their struggles help a great deal through a connection on a human level. These are our brothers and sisters in need.”
Ukraine, in eastern Europe, is the second-largest European country after Russia, which it borders to the east and northeast. Before the war began in February, Ukraine covered approximately 600,000 square kilometers, and was the eighth-most populous country in Europe, with a population of roughly 41 million people.
Kayla Banning, coordinator of High School Youth Ministry at Good Shepherd, said the support from the North Texas church goes beyond financial support.
“Also, we’ve done prayer cards, rosary cards, and we’ve handed out prayer cards for people to be praying for the Ukrainian refugees and everything that’s happening over there,” she said.
“It’s been well supported by the parish and there are so many good things that we’ve heard in return from the Polish people as well,” Banning said. “They sent Ukrainian refugee videos over, people just telling us about their experience at the parish and kind of what their living conditions are.”
Banning said, “We’ve played that [video] at church a few times, and it’s been supported very well by the parish and its people.”