“As we reflected on our experience in Ukraine, I felt a deep desire to stay faithful to the Ukrainian people and to keep choosing not just for the individual poor, who need support, but also for the country that is so clearly marginalized in the family of nations.”
In 1993-94, Henri Nouwen, the Dutch-born priest and spiritual writer, made two trips to recently-independent Ukraine. There he led retreats, observed the resurgence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and connected with local communities working with handicapped adults. These trips were deeply significant to Nouwen. And yet the full meaning of his observations may only now become clear.
With extraordinary prescience, Henri identified in Ukraine certain spiritual and moral qualities struggling to assert themselves–exactly the qualities, almost thirty years later, that the Ukrainian people have mobilized in their struggle for freedom and independence. He found a people hungry for hope and healing, in need of the life-giving message he most wanted to share: that we are all “beloved of God,” and that God’s love meets us where we are most hurt, weak, and vulnerable.
Read today, Nouwen’s previously unpublished work is like a time capsule, a message from the past with special meaning for today. In an introduction by Borys Gudziak, Archbishop-Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, he notes: “This modest, seemingly simple book about a visit to a distant land is in fact a subtle tale of how encounter genuinely and radically changes the lives of people.” In his moving afterword, Nouwen’s brother Laurent Nouwen describes how for twenty-five years after Henri’s death he continued an outreach of solidarity and service to the people of Ukraine through the Henri Nouwen Foundation.