‘My parishioners are living out their faith in very concrete way’

Members of an Evergreen Park church Wednesday loaded up supplies bound for Ukrainian refugees living in Poland.

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Mark Bermele, a volunteer and parishioner at St Bernadette Catholic Church, playfully puts a box of donations on Charlotte Woolley’s head as they line up to load donations into a truck at the Evergreen Park church Wednesday morning.

Mark Bermele, a volunteer and parishioner at St Bernadette Catholic Church, playfully puts a box of donations on Charlotte Woolley’s head as they line up to load donations into a truck at the Evergreen Park church Wednesday morning.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As a boy, the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan would wake up at 4 a.m. to wait in line for sugar in communist Poland. He remembers, too, how the government, to punish dissent, would cut electricity in his town.

“You could have money, but there was nothing in the stores,” Pazdan said.

If Pazdan bears ill will toward the Russians, he won’t say it.

“We are taught to love our enemies,” said Pazdan, the pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Evergreen Park.

Love is what brought Pazdan, dozens of his parishioners — and many other volunteers — out Wednesday to load supplies into a truck for Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

In four days, Pazdan said, the parish collected enough supplies — socks, diapers, feminine products, blankets and much more — to fill 600 boxes. The parish also raised about $55,000 in cash donations for the Ukraine effort.

“We’ve all witnessed what’s been going on in Ukraine — the horrific atrocities committed against humanity,” said Pazdan, who grew up in a town some 60 miles from the Ukraine border. “It just broke my heart to see so many women and children, people dying. I wanted to help somehow.”

And so did students from the nearby Brother Rice High School, members of the Saint Xavier University football team, and the Evergreen Park Fire Department among others.

Children, who barely know how to write, penned notes smothered in hearts and flowers and written in shaky pencil — tucking them in with blankets.

“My parishioners are living out their faith in a very concrete way,” Pazdan said.

The offerings are expected to be loaded onto a flight from O’Hare Airport bound for Warsaw.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said Wednesday that more than 4 million people have left Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24 and sparked Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. That number exceeds the worst-case predictions made at the start of the war.

Half of the refugees from Ukraine are children, according to UNHCR and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

“I think it’s a tragic milestone,” said Alex Mundt, the UNHCR senior emergency coordinator in Poland. “It means that in less than a month or in just about a month, 4 million people have been uprooted from their homes, from their families, their communities, in what is the fastest exodus of refugees moving in recent history.”

More than 2.3 million refugees from Ukraine entered Poland, but some have since traveled on to other countries. A small number have returned to Ukraine, either to help in the defense against the Russians or to care for relatives.

Contributing: Associated Press

Patrick Woolley loads donations into a truck outside St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park, Ill., Wednesday morning, March 30, 2022. Volunteers packed a truck with 600 boxes of supplies, which include toiletries, blankets and clothes, that will be delivered to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and those affected by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, according to Father Benedykt Pazdan, a pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.

Patrick Woolley loads donations into a truck Wednesday outside St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, a pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park, Ill., smiles as he gathers volunteers to thank them for their help outside the church after loading donations into the truck Wednesday morning, March 30, 2022. Volunteers packed a truck with 600 boxes of supplies, which include toiletries, blankets and clothes, that will be delivered to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and those affected by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, according to Pazdan.

The Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, the pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park, thanks volunteers for their help Wednesday loading donations that will be sent to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Volunteers line up to load donations into a truck outside St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park, Ill., Wednesday morning, March 30, 2022. Volunteers packed a truck with 600 boxes of supplies, which include toiletries, blankets and clothes, that will be delivered to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and those affected by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, according to Father Benedykt Pazdan, a pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.

In four days, St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park collected enough supplies to fill 600 boxes that will be delivered to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mateo Perez, a junior at Brother Rice High School, carries a box of donations at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park, Ill., Wednesday morning, March 30, 2022. Volunteers packed a truck with 600 boxes of supplies, which include toiletries, blankets and clothes, that will be delivered to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and those affected by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, according to Father Benedykt Pazdan, a pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.

Mateo Perez, a junior at Brother Rice High School, carries a box of donations Wednesday at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Evergreen Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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