Students shaken by Ukraine are soothed and rallied by campus ministries

Oksana Goroshchuk entered Yale University's St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel and saw sunflowers on a candlelit altar.

Students shaken by Ukraine are soothed and rallied by campus ministries

She thought about the fields of Ukrainian national blossoms near her grandmother's house in Ukraine.

A mezzo-soprano launched into a folk song that Goroshchuk sang growing up. The postdoctoral medical researcher was overcome with grief and gratitude for the university's support.

Goroshchuk, 32 years old, said that people support and love him. He was born in Kyiv, and his parents fled the war-torn country just recently.

Campus ministries from different faiths have set up campus ministries across the United States to offer comfort and support to students who have felt more helpless and in crisis after two years of isolation and pandemic disruption.

They organize prayer vigils, organise medical supply drives, and perform sacred music in emotional performances. Chaplains emphasize that students of all faiths, including those who have loved ones in war zones need to feel a sense community to cope.

Lisa Reiter, Loyola University Chicago's director of campus ministry, said that "One of our greatest things in campus ministry is that we foster community."

Many people sat silently at the Wednesday night benefit concert at Yale and gazed at the image of Jesus Christ crucified holding a dove. The blue and yellow flags of Ukraine lit up the scene. The chapel was filled with cello suites, organ parts, piano melodies, and classical violin and keyboard music. A Ukrainian Orthodox chant was also heard.

Russians are trying to take over the lives of Ukrainians, and there is a mass movement. They can't take the culture away, and they can’t take the language or song away," Sofiya, a Yale student aged 19, from Lviv, Ukraine, said. When I hear these songs, I feel that it is important to preserve my Ukrainian-ness.

Nearby, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire's Hillel organization welcomed several Ukrainian students to a Shabbat meal. They enjoyed matzo ball soup, deli sandwiches, and other campus-related activities. The members of the Jewish group listened to their guests' stories about their families and promised support.

Yevheniia, a student aged 20, said that it was nice to be part of this community. She was baptized Orthodox Christian but considers herself to be agnostic.

To protect her parents, she asked for her last name to be withheld. Her parents live in an area of eastern Ukraine under the control of Moscow-backed separatists. She recently messaged her to inform her that they were planning to go to a bomb shelter.

A peace vigil was held at the University of Rhode Island this month. It brought together people of all faiths to pray and held an interfaith peace meeting. To mark the moment of silence for Ukraine's victims and their families, a Buddhist chaplain used a Tibetan singing bowl.

The organizers stressed the importance not only of making divine appeals, but also carrying out tangible, earthly actions, and provided resources to students.

Amy Olson, executive director of Hillel and chair of the university’s Chaplains Association, stated that prayer alone was not enough. "We put a lot of emphasis on how people could make charitable donations or help the cause. We also discussed ways they could write to their elected officials or support the Ukrainian community.

Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia hosted a similar solidarity vigil. Loyola University Chicago also hosted a solidarity vigil. The campus ministry joined forces with the newly-recreated Ukrainian student club in order to collect 60 tons of medical supplies.

The University of St. Thomas, Minnesota campus ministers have been collecting money to support humanitarian aid at religious services. Some $700 was collected at Ash Wednesday Masses. An online donation kiosk was also set up using a QR code that can be scanned.

Many Somali American students attend the school, where they attended a recent prayer of peace. They are refugees' or refugee children and have experienced the horrors of war firsthand.

Many chaplains stated that students have suffered from anxiety and stress due to the lack of socialization and socializing during the pandemic.

Their mission has changed. It is no longer about worship but rather helping young adults reconnect with the world. This often means that they channel their concerns into charitable action.

Sister Jenn Schaaf at Yale, assistant Catholic Chaplain, said that students have been trying to figure what to do.

Karolina Wojteczko is a Polish native who was recently awarded a degree from Yale and serves as the music director at St. Thomas More.

Wojteczko was motivated to organize the concert after experiencing distress among her American and Eastern European friends. This included Russians who Wojteczko said are being "shunned" from their communities. One student, who has family in Russia and Ukraine, admitted to feeling completely lost.

People have been able to unite, cope with and heal from the concert.

Wojteczko stated that "after COVID everyone had been so isolated," and "this is... a means to just be, to participate and to feel connected to people who are in need of help in the world."


 

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