Ukraine war: Catholic charity to fund restoration of looted seminary

A Catholic charity announced this week that it would fund the restoration of a Ukrainian seminary looted by Russian forces.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said on May 9 that it planned to cover the costs of building repairs and replacing stolen furniture and equipment at the Catholic seminary in Vorzel, 18 miles from the capital Kyiv.

The pontifical foundation's support should enable the Major Theological Seminary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to reopen in September, seven months after 25 seminarians were forced to flee the Russian advance in northern Ukraine.

ACN made the announcement after representatives visited the seminary in the Latin Rite Diocese of Kyiv-Zhytomyr and met with its rector Father Ruslan Mikhalkiv.

"They took everything they could. Kitchen utensils, washing machines, computers, and air conditioners. The seminarians' rooms were ransacked and they took liturgical items, including a chalice donated by St. John Paul II when he visited Ukraine in 2001," Mikhalkiv said.

Priests and students evacuated the seminary after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. They found refuge in a neighboring diocese.

Russian troops are believed to have looted the seminary in mid-March. According to local witnesses, the soldiers spent two nights at the site.

After the Russians abandoned the area, a small group led by Father Mikhalkiv returned to the seminary, near the city of Bucha.

The priest previously described how he discovered a shattered statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the seminary dining room. After considering various theories about how it was damaged, he said he "had the impression that it had been a blow from the devil to the Blessed Virgin Mary." He linked the damage to the worldwide act of consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which took place around the same time.

The estimated cost of the repairs is more than 150,000 euros (around $158,000).

Magda Kaczmarek, head of projects in Ukraine for ACN International, said: "Since the war started, we have been giving our full support to the local Church of both rites, Latin and Greek Catholic. First with emergency support in the war zones, and for refugees in the West of the country."

"Thanks to our benefactors, we have been funding transport costs, vehicles and the extraordinary activities of priests and religious in the affected territories."

"Furthermore, in a second phase, we have been helping the parishes and monasteries in Ukraine that opened their doors to refugees, giving them material and spiritual support."

"In a third phase, and within our possibilities, we want to help repair the damage."

ACN has a longstanding connection to Ukraine, a predominantly Orthodox Christian country in Eastern Europe, helping to fund the training of seminarians.

Father Mykhalkiv said: "We will be very grateful to ACN if our seminarians manage to return in September."