18 July 2018
The video above shows how some religious sisters in Ukraine are doing more with less, and praying for an increase in vocations. (video: Ivan Chernichkin)
In the June 2018 edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz shows how religious sisters in Ukraine are doing more with less and Giving 200 Percent. Here, he offers some additional thoughts.
Doing more with the less is the central theme of the convent story. At the outset, I found the topic for this reporting assignment difficult to wrap my brain around because I had never been exposed to religious sisters beyond cursory encounters at church.
I researched the different orders and the charisms that define them. In Ukraine, some orders are more than 100 years old. They have storied traditions that are rooted in serving both God and vulnerable groups of society. Some are devoted to education, others to health care, and more to well-rounded child development.
In a country of more than 40 million, yet the size of Texas, Ukraine only has about 850 religious sisters serving in different capacities at 21 communities.
They’re clearly not in a position to scale up — and it soon because obvious, over three days of reporting, that they’re overwhelmed.
Sister Natalya Melnyk, who heads the council of superiors of women communities, said the female cohort risks “burnout.”
There’s only so much they can do that is humanly possible.
Their numbers are dwindling so the communities are drawing upon the talents that each sister possesses. Some have two or three degrees of higher learning, including medicine and biological genetics. There are also trained lawyers and psychologists, some of whom have studied abroad in Rome.
While the pool of incoming sisters brings women with richer pedigrees than those who entered convents en masse after the church emerged from underground in 1991, they’re no longer clamoring to join an order.
Various reasons were given for this — and the church is still doing a deep-dive analysis. The main reason, perhaps, is that youth have more choices than in the past. Temporal values like materialism, consumerism, and individualism take precedence over deeper spiritual values — and they aren’t conducive to that lifestyle.
The church is also battling the stereotype that entering a convent is the equivalent of incarceration. It’s simply not attractive to people, so efforts are being taken to change messaging and how people are introduced to the church.
Despite everything, the sisters are optimistic.
“It’s about quality not quantity” now, said Basilian order superior Mother Danyila Vynnyk, quoting a French truism.
To adapt, sisters meet weekly to exchange thoughts on lessons learned — what works and what doesn’t in their communities. This saves time, improves efficiency and avoids duplication of mistakes and waste of human resources.
The church also utilizes outsourcing when possible. Lay people are being used to augment the sister’s work — such as teaching the catechism to children.
And there is well-grounded hope. Aside from the orders that will inevitably die out because they couldn’t sustainably replenish their numbers after the rebuilding phase of the 1990s, other communities could see their numbers swell again, once the new generation brought up in church life grows of age.
Sister Teofania of the Basilian order is one of these. She grew up immersed in church life. Entering a convent seemed like a natural decision to her.
“It will be very interesting to see what will become of this generation,” Sister Nataliya said.
Read more in the current edition of ONE.
Tags: Ukraine Sisters Ukrainian Catholic