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On Saturday, 26 February 2022, I was with my family to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. At a particular moment, I hear my mobile phone ring several times. Unknown caller. I let it go. But then I hear that someone has left me a voice message. So, I listen… and I can’t believe it! There, Brother Ayman from the Holy Land asks me for help for students from Israel and Palestine who are fleeing Ukraine and looking for a place to sleep. Sure, we’ll do it right away! But how to do this at a distance of almost 400km?

So, I jumped to call the Polish friars of Jaroslaw, who are closer to Ukraine (Province of St Mary of the Angels). After a few minutes, I get the affirmative answer from the guardian, Brother Florencjusz: Of course, let’s help them! Afterwards, we exchange many calls (everything happens on WhatsApp between Israel, Poland and Ukraine). Everything seems easy. The friars will come to pick them up, and then they will get places to sleep etc. But no, we find out that the young people are still on Ukrainian territory, they are very close to the border, but there is still some way to go through the checkpoint. Good thing that Ali (one of the students) managed to pass through the border and was the point of reference already in Poland, especially with access to the Internet. The fact is that the other students no longer had network coverage and, therefore, communication with them was impossible. 

Brother Ayman also provided us with the contact person from Israel to get the students safely to their homes. Thanks to her, we contacted both Ali and other students and coordinated the help.

At the same time, the friars from Jaroslaw quickly organised themselves and arrived near the border and met Ali. He was our guide, and the waiting time for other fellow escapees began from that moment on. I remember that it was already dark, cold, and so many people were everywhere. The students had been walking for two days and were exhausted. Almost all night, they had to wait for the young students to cross the border, and after a short journey by car, they were finally able to have something to eat, get warm and sleep in the friary of the Friars Minor in Jaroslaw. A few days later, they happily returned to their families. Praise be to God!

The evening of 26 February, two days after the start of the war, became the visible sign of Franciscan solidarity and hospitality for my confreres and me. It was a practical lesson in service to our brothers and sisters according to the teaching of Jesus. Another day I found other voice messages on my mobile phone thanking me for the welcome, friendship and collaboration. I also thanked Sister “Network” and Brother “WhatsApp”.

Br. Sergiusz M. Bałdyga OFM
JPIC Animator  
Province of the Assumption of the BVM Katowice, Poland