Sisters Valorie Lordi and Bernadette Nonnon shared their reflections upon their return from a 10-day mission experience in Slovakia and Ukraine. They went to be with our Dominican Sisters of Blessed Imelda, Slovakia, and the Ukrainian refugees whom they serve.
Sister Valorie: I felt called to make this journey, to put my feet on the sacred land of Ukraine in communion with the Slovakian Dominican Sisters. My primary focus was to join with them in being present to devastated families who are fleeing a country eaten up by the evils of war. Fathers, sons, and brothers are missing, and homes, hospitals, and schools are being destroyed, primarily in the Eastern part of the country. Through Margaret Mayce, OP, Coordinator of Dominican Sisters International, we connected in the most beautiful, integral, heart-centered way to the entire Dominican Family. This was a brand-new experience for me; it was a miracle, a gift that we have this network of Dominican sisters and brothers.
Sister Bernadette: I would like to thank people for their support and prayers. I am so grateful for being able to go on this journey, and for the lessons I learned from these beautiful people. In spite of the fact that they do not know what will happen from day to day, their tremendous faith in God allows them to live in the present moment. I wonder, “How do these people live everyday with hope?” We have no idea of how many things we take for granted. Their reality could be our reality; life can all change in an instant. This experience reminded me to be grateful for all we have. It was both joyful and heartbreaking to be witnessing spectacular land ruined and beautiful children left at orphanages due to the war.
Sister Valorie: The Slovakian Dominican Sisters were lovely, they were fun, they were incredibly intelligent, they were passionate, they were serious—and their lives are in danger. To sit and share stories with them was a mind-blowing blessing because of their legacy of having lived under Communism; what we heard was a shocking history. Communists captured these elder Sisters and enslaved them for many years. As young Sisters they were forced to work in factories and have no religious life together because they would not give up their faith. The younger Sisters all grew up under Communism. They have been through a journey we know nothing about. They live in fear as they respond to their neighbors in Ukraine who are under threat.
Sister Bernadette: We say, “Where one Sparkill Sister is, we all are.” In Slovakia, we certainly felt the presence of the whole Dominican family. The Sisters we visited also felt this connection. About five Sisters could speak English very well. The other Sisters spoke with their hearts through welcoming smiles. Even though we didn’t speak the language, the Dominican Spirit—the charism of joy and love—was palpable. They loved the statue of St. Dominic we brought for them; it made them very happy. It was great to go to the Sisters’ ministries and see them in action.
Sister Valorie: The refugees touched my heart deeply. We joined Sisters Edita and Lydia as they brought much needed supplies to Ukraine. It was simple and fast; we got there, met Sister Lydia and helped her pack, unpack, pack, unpack, and then go with her to the families. We visited women and children who are now living in school buildings and children left at orphanages. That was the sacred ground.
What Now? The “what now” is evolving. We have connected personally, and that connection will grow. Everyone we met was asking for unity across the world. They ask for prayers, especially to the Virgin of Medjugorje, that we might spend time in prayer together—the only way to end this war. On a practical level, they would like NATO to get involved, but these women of faith do not see a literal, political solution. Their message to us is:
We need your prayer; we need you to unite with us in some way.
As for us, we look forward to deepening our connection with these courageous survivors through prayer and communication.
Sister Valorie Lordi is the school nurse at St. John Chrysostom School, Bronx, NY. Sister Bernadette Nonnon is the Healthcare Coordinator for the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill.