We would like to tell you about how we came to welcome nineteen Ukrainians into our community.

When the war broke out over a month ago, our community immediately looked for a way to respond to a request for help from our neighbors, the Friars Minor; in their convent they had already opened the doors to some Ukrainians. We collected blankets, sheets and other things, but these proved to be unnecessary because people responded with impressive generosity and swiftness.

We were thinking of contacting Caritas, when on March 10 one of our former students, Guido Galipò, whose wife is Ukrainian, approached us asking us to offer hospitality to two Ukrainian families, to whom they were providing emergency shelter in their house. At a meeting with our Superior, Sr. Carmela Galati, who consulted us about what to do, we decided unanimously and joyfully to offer them lodging in our own house, on the same floor where we live. At the same meeting Sr. Carmela informed us of another request that had come from the President of the “Fondazione Sicilia,” (Sicily Foundation) Mr. Raffaele Bonsignore who, also wanting us to work with him and his Foundation in behalf of the Ukrainians, had come to the Handmaids, promising to assist us in every way and in everything necessary from food to furniture if we would offer hospitality to some additional families now.

Actually, we did have some free rooms, but they were in the area of our university residence. We informed our young students of what we would like to do, and they amazed us with their readiness to change rooms in order to make an entire second-floor wing available for the prospective guests. Their parents were also very understanding.

So, assured of the support of the “Fondazione Sicilia” we decided to take in more families. We contacted the Caritas Association of the diocese, offering a total of 10 rooms with 22 beds.

So on the 22nd of March the first 2 families arrived sponsored by the lawyer, Mr. Guido Gallipò. On the 28th of March another family arrived, consisting of a grandmother, a mother and an 8 month old baby. The requests increased; on April 5th another 38 year old woman arrived with her 12 year old son. Some families are only staying with us in transit, finding a place to stay elsewhere. Another woman moved us deeply, barely able to hide her tears and suffering; she decided to return to Ukraine with the intention of bringing her mother. She would leave her 7 year old son behind in Poland with some acquaintances, then she would proceed on her journey.

At present we have nineteen guests, but we are expecting others.

Moreover, the basement level of our house has become the center for the work of the Comitato Salva Ucraini (Save the Ucrainians Committee) which, founded by Mr. Gallipò with some of his friends, had been initially housed in on the premises of another association. Now, every day, we see among us tireless volunteers who sort and organize clothing, medicines, food and other essential items, so they can easily be identified.

They do this together with some citizens who arrived in Palermo from Ukraine some years ago and who are offering themselves as translators, facilitating communication with our guests. The Comitato Salva Ucraini is primarily operated to guarantee the Ukrainian refugees some basic health assistance, making contact with some volunteer pediatricians and with pharmacies to do Covid testing, serological tests and vaccinations needed to obtain a “green pass.”

Having opened our doors to these refugees, which has involved giving up a bit of our own privacy, our community is experiencing a wave of generosity on the part of so many people: from the lady from the bakery who comes to bring us brioche and pizzas, and some other Adorers who are providing the children with brand-new clothes or offering money, from the friends from far away who send donations, from the parents of our children from the catechism class who offer all kinds of things. The leaders and the friends of the Committee are so grateful and offer themselves for countless small services showing their gratitude for our warm hospitality.

One of our guests said the other day that while in the beginning she was almost afraid to come into a religious community, as she came to know us she was surprised to see that we are smiling and not overly silent, and above she was amazed at how we, without knowing them, trusted them.

We do not know how long this emergency will last, but the sense of brotherhood and generosity of so many people supports and encourages us.

Elena Bove, aci