Through the reports sent to us by journalists and news broadcasts on the web and social networks, we are following the conflict in Ukraine as it happens.  Every day we witness the human drama of large numbers of people, mostly women and children, who have to flee from the bombardments. At the same time, actions that welcome refugees  are silently multiplying in many European countries. Here are some testimonies.

A month ago, none of us could have imagined that today there would be more than three million refugees from Ukraine. But this is the reality we are experiencing not only in the countries close to the conflict zones but now in all the countries of Europe and beyond.

Practically overnight we had to organise ourselves to welcome our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, mostly children and women, who are fleeing from the horror.

“When the conflict began and the first people arrived from Ukraine,” says Manuela from Berlin, Germany, ” I saw it as a response to the fact we have had to cancel the annual Focolare meeting that we call the European Mariapolis. Welcoming people as best we can,  is now my and our Mariapolis. This is what God wants from me and from us.”

And from Munich, also in Germany, Dora says: “The priests’ house where I work took in two women and a 12-year-old child. They don’t speak German or English but we understand each other by using web translation on our mobile phones. A few evenings ago, after dinner, I asked them if they needed anything. The mother replied: ‘Yes, I need a pair of size 42 shoes for my son.’  At that moment I felt Chiara Lubich very close to me and I understood that we were on the right path.” Dora is referring  to an event that happened to Chiara Lubich during the Second World War when a man who was poor and struggling asked her for a pair of men’s shoes size 42, and, almost immediately, a friend gave her a pair of shoes in that size which her family did not need.

At the moment, some some Focolare Centres with residential facilities are being made available  to host the refugees from Ukraine.  As early as 3 March 2022, the first 5 refugees (2 young mothers with their children) were given accommodation in the Mariapolis centre ‘’, near Vienna, Austria. They were grateful for the hot showers and the food they received.  The following day they continued their journey by train. Ten days later, 34 refugees arrived, including 15 children, who were accommodated for between one to five nights. The same happened with the Mariapolis Centres in Germany: Zwochau/Leipzig, Solingen/Cologne and Ottmaring/Augsburg.

Twenty-five young people from north-west Germany took part in a charity run for Ukrainian orphans on Saturday 12 March 2022. A large group ran in Solingen and others from Cologne, Munich and also from Graz.  Other participants joined in along the course and ran with them. In total, the young people ran more than 250 kilometres and collected more than 10,000 euros! At the end, they connected via videoconference with the focolarine who are in Ukraine and were able to talk and share the experiences they are living.

Taking care of refugees and collecting money, clothes or food are not the only things to do; it is also important  to raise awareness of the idea of peace.

Margarete D. is a teacher and started a special campaign with her class in Krefeld, Germany. She saw that the children in her school wanted to do something practical  and so they began the  “Postcards for Peace” initiative.

Some sentences were translated into Russian and meticulously written by the children in Cyrillic letters next to the translation in their mother tongue.  These messages were sent to people who have influence to stop the fighting.

There is still a great deal to be done. In the meantime, efforts are being made to organise the logistical and practical aspects of welcoming refugees in the best  way possible whilst hoping there will soon be an end to this conflict.  This is the hope expressed by Pope Francis  after the Angelus on Sunday 20 March 2022: “I plead with all those involved in the international community to truly commit to ending this abhorrent war.

Carlos Mana


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