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Faith and Works: Northeast Ohio clergy make humanitarian trips to Ukrainian refugee camps

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Posted at 5:32 PM, Apr 12, 2022

PARMA, Ohio — Two clergymen from Northeast Ohio have made it their calling to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing to both Poland and Romania while also cobbling together support here at home.

Bishop Bohdan Danylo, the chief bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saint Josaphat in Parma, recently became the first U.S. bishop to travel to the Ukraine-Poland border when he visited in late March and early April. A native of Poland, Bishop Danylo visited the border city of Przemysl, Poland, his childhood home and one of the key points of entry for Ukrainian refugees.

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During his visit, he helped to dole out donations, distribute medicine and food as well as offer encouragement and prayer. What he saw is difficult to describe.

“Eastern Europe, which saw 75 years ago the largest destruction of that continent, is [destroyed] again,” Bishop Danylo said. “In Mariupol, it looks like the city of Aleppo. It’s not a military conflict; it’s a cleansing of the people of Ukraine.”

Danylo, who has been the Eparch since 2015, spent a week at the Ukrainian-Polish border. Wanting to see the realities of the Russian invasion and its impact on the Ukrainian people, he said he was struck by the overwhelming need and the outpouring of support.

“I couldn’t be at home here in Cleveland knowing that those people are in search of food, shelter and somebody that could speak their language,” Danylo said. “In Ukraine, those men and women that are fighting and defending their land, they want to live in a free society and have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: the foundation of our nation. Today, another nation is fighting for those rights.”

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In addition to short-term needs, Rev. George Baum, the rector of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Massillon, said Ukrainian refugees are in need of long-term support as well.

“What they needed was food, a hot cup of tea and a blanket and toys for the kids. Now, we’ve moved into the stage where they need a longer-term help,” Rev. Baum said. “I’m going over there to plan longer term. That would be to get education for the kids, get them classes and schools and also employment for the adults.”

Rev. Baum, who will depart for Romania the day after Easter, won’t be going there alone. Before being ordained, Baum was in a band called Lost & Found, alongside well-known Christian music artist Michael Bridges. Together, the two men will be joining their former manager, who has since been ordained himself, Rev. Justin Vetrano. Vetrano, who serves at a parish in New York, is married to a woman from Romania and, together, they have been providing relief and assistance to Ukrainian refugees since the invasion began.

“We’re getting to the point where the people are getting really desperate. They are coming [to Romania] and they have no plan,” Rev. Baum said. “They end up in Romania. They’re away from the bombs but they don’t know what they’re doing tomorrow. The point of this trip is to help them figure out what they’re going to do next week, next month, next year.”

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While on the trip, Baum said he will be providing assistance while also making important connections as to the long-term needs of Ukrainians, whether it be housing or employment. Once those connections are made, Baum said the plan to provide that relief will come into better focus, allowing him and others to raise money in order to help fund the mission.

“As a priest, it’s sort of my job to give people hope. This falls right into line with that,” Baum said. “What I keep reminding myself is that we can’t help everybody, but we can make a world of difference for one or two or 50 people.”