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“I was astonished by the alcohol abuse in the parish — 30 out of 289 farms were making and distributing liquor. You may not believe it, but when I asked the folks to help me, the first thing they told me early in the morning was, ‘Father, pour us something to warm us up.’”

The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was an incident in March 2002. A parishioner and mother asked him to lend her some of the church’s money for her dying daughter. He lent her the money without reservation. The following day, the woman’s daughter, Lilia, came to speak with the priest. She assured him she was healthy, but explained that her mother on the other hand was not; she had a serious drinking problem and had lied to him in order to get money for vodka. Lilia asked Father Hiletsky for his and the parish’s support while she and her family sought the appropriate professional help for her mother.

From that moment onward, Father Hiletsky declared a war on alcoholism. Initially, village authorities denied the priest’s requests to allow his parish to stage awareness-raising events on the dangers of alcoholism. But once he received a letter of approval from the office of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, local authorities gave Father Hiletsky and his parish the green light. Soon after, the village’s Orthodox parish joined forces with Holy Trinity.

“At first, I planned to do what Cardinal Yosyp Sembratovych [the metropolitan archbishop of Galicia] did in the 19th century,” recalls Father Hiletsky, holding his son — one of his five children — on his knees. “He gathered together people from all over the village to identify a dead alcoholic laid out in a coffin, which stood on a pedestal. One by one, the villagers stepped up to the coffin and silently walked away. What they saw instead of the face of a deceased man was a mirror.”

In the end, Father Hiletsky decided that such a production might offend more than enlighten today’s parishioners, choosing instead to stage the burial. And while the Catholic and Orthodox parishes have organized numerous anti-alcoholism events in recent years, the Burial of Alcoholism had the most profound affect on the community. Since it took place, authorities have cracked down on the illegal distribution of alcohol in the village, shutting down all such rackets.

Recently, the local Catholic and Orthodox parish communities, Viktor Proskuriakov and the ecumenical organization, Christian Ukraine, have been working together to establish a free or low-cost rehabilitation center for individuals struggling with addictions in Lviv Oblast.

“After medical treatment in a dispensary, these people definitely need to cure their minds and souls; otherwise, it is ineffective,” explains Myroslav Danylkiv, a founding member of Christian Ukraine.

The few rehabilitation centers in the Ukraine are generally expensive. Monthly fees at such centers range from $250 to $1,850 — far out of reach for most residents in western Ukraine, where the average monthly salary hovers around $200.

“They need the therapy of love,” says Father Oleksandr Koroliuk, pastor of the Orthodox Church of St. Dmitri Solunski.

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Tags: Ukraine Health Care Socioreligious programs Alcoholism