Castleknock College Union

Paul Roche, CM, class '61 in the Ukraine

Where are they now

Sep 25, 2002
Paul Roche, CM, class '61 in the Ukraine -

During his term as President in 2002, Victor Stafford and a number of his classmates paid a visit Fr. Paul Roche in the Ukraine and below is his report. A share of the proceeds of the 2006 Business Lunch Raffle were sent to Fr. Roche earlier this year, together with our best wishes for the wonderful work that he is doing.

The highlight of the year for me was my trip to Kiev in the Ukraine to visit Fr Paul Roche C.M. (class of '61) and his team in September 2002.

Having visited for a few days one of our sons who is studying in Berlin as part of his Trinity College BESS course, I departed Berlin 6.20am for Frankfurt and then took a 2.5 hour flight to Kiev where I was met at 1pm by Paul. Getting a visa through   London took about 10 days and there were two further forms to be filled in before getting through Customs and Immigration in Kiev airport. Paul had travelled out to the airport by bus and then told me had prepaid the taxi which we took back into Kiev to the Community House/Office.

The taxi journey was just 25 minutes.

Paul lives in a small modern "two" storey house. On the ground floor it has a small basic living room which seats 5/6 people through which one walks into a kitchen/dinette. There is a basement below which provides storage and car parking - there is no car yet, but a garage is essential for a car as temperatures in the winter are as low as -20 at which level even diesel freezes unless the vehicle is stored under cover. Upstairs Paul has a room which is equivalent in size to a 3-4 star sized hotel bedroom. This room serves as his bedroom and the administration headquarters of the Vincentian Provincial for Ukraine, Belarus and the Ural region of Siberia! One of the other bedrooms is occupied by Fr John Trzop who effectively is in charge of the Vincentian Community of Kiev. Fr. John, in his thirties, is a priest of 8 years. He is a native of Poland. He spent the first year of his ministry in Cracow, Poland, and has since been in Ukraine and specifically in Kiev since May 2002. Amongst other matters he does the shopping and the cooking - they wisely allow Paul only do the wash up! The third bedroom is, I was told kept for visitors. This is where I slept. It was very comfortable. On this floor there is also a small shower/wc/wash hand basin room. Above, there is a loft area accessed by a timber ladder. This is an open space( except for a small cubicle sized wc/wash hand basin room) of 33 x 20 feet - the full imprint of the floor area of the building . When I was staying, this area served as the sleeping area for two 5th year clerical students (citizens of the USSR) who are spending a few weeks working in Kiev. One of them, Eduard Gorevoj (24) from Latvia spent the first 4 years of his Seminary training in Cracow. This coming year he will spend by way of an extra year on practical work assisting in a parish, learning English and writing a paper on a subject relevant to the Vincentian mission in these parts. This year will be spent between a Vincentian house in Belarus and one in Kharkov in the Ukraine, after which he will return to the Seminary in Cracow. The other seminarian in the house was Alex Shevckenko (22) from Bukovina, South West Ukraine. He has also spent the previous 4 years in Cracow and will be following a similar path to that of Eduard. The space which they occupy in the house is used from time to time to accommodate up to 6/8 students. Also in the house for a few days was Fr Jacok Dubicki from Poland, en route to Belarus.

The accommodation is clean and tidy but sparse and spartan. This is partially a reflection of Paul's view of the fact that they ought live simply, and partly a result of working on a tight budget.

The site on which the house is situated was laid out in a lawn by Fr John. Immediately beside is a site on which it is intended to commence construction of an 8,000 square foot building in October 2002. The total site area is circa 0.25 of an acre. The building will be the Vincentian Province Novitiate in Kiev complementing the seminaries for the Province which are located in Cracow and Slovakia. It will also serve as a local community facility. A very significant activity will be a direct caring for the people of the area which is one of the poorer areas of the city. The building which will be completed circa July 2003 will contain a chapel of about 800 square feet to accommodate up to 40 people. There will also be a small kitchen, toilets, and a room which will serve as a large meeting/conference room or be divisible into two rooms. In the latter case, which will tend to be the norm, one of the rooms will serve as a library/classroom. On the second floor of the building there will be 8 small basic ensuite twin rooms for clerical students from outside Kiev.

The house and adjoining site, which are just 5 minutes walk from the Central train station, and which have a very pleasant view of part of the city from their elevated position, cost $140,000. The new building will cost about $200,000.

While Paul is of course an Irishman, this Vincentian province draws its Vincentians from Poland, Slovenia , Ukraine and Slovakia. With this new presence, the clerical students will be coming almost exclusively from Ukraine and after spending a novitiate year in Kiev they will continue to go on to the two existing Seminaries in Poland and Slovakia, or if circumstances permit, they may attend the Diocesan Seminary located 20 minutes by public transport from the house in Kiev

The atmosphere in the house is very happy , relaxing, calm, prayerful - without being overpowering, and one senses a great energy, excitement and commitment to the expansion of the Vincentian presence in these parts.

Prior to independence, a huge number of churches, including Orthodox in the Ukraine were closed and converted to alternative uses - stores, music halls, museums of atheism etc..

The principal Religion is Orthodox Christianity. The Orthodox Church has several separate communities which would be regarded with equal respect by all members - the main ones are Constantinople(Greek), Moscow(Russian), Alexandria etc.. These Churches are all regarded by the Catholic Church as having valid orders, sacraments etc., but they do not recognize the supremacy of the Pope, and are in fact very opposed to Rome.
In Ukraine, the situation is further complicated by a division within the Orthodox - between those loyal to Moscow(majority), and a very substantial number who are loyal to an independent Kiev Patriarch. They would represent about 70% of the population.

There are then two Roman Churches, - the Latin Rite, as in Ireland, whose "market share" in the Ukraine is about 6%, and the Greek Rite (Uniate Church) which represents about 20% of the population.
Most cities in Ukraine include a Polish Roman Catholic Church as well as a Protestant Church. Small Jewish minorities exist in all cities, and Muslim communities, primarily Tartars, exist in Crimea.

The objective of the Vincentian Province, under Paul's leadership, is not to necessarily "convert", but rather to bring the Christian message of Hope, Care, Compassion and Love to many marginalized people of all faiths, and of none, whose lives have been damaged and for whom life is hardship, drudgery and apparently without purpose or meaning. In Paul's own words, the aim is "to establish a tradition of charity and care where there is very little support for the weak and defenceless".

For three or four days of the week, when he is in Kiev, Paul’s day starts at 5.30- am obviously, when he sets out by foot for about 10 minutes before he takes public transport to a convent where he says mass for a group of Indian Nuns, at 6.40am. They are here to study medicine, it being inexpensive to study it in Ukraine. After breakfast with the nuns, some of whom will have left their house before breakfast, Paul then returns to deal with Administrative or local matters, which at present means that he is primarily preoccupied with encountering and getting around the endless bureaucratic requirements of building in the former Soviet Union. Whilst Paul's primary source of communication appears to be through email, internet and phone calls, those of us who know him would not be surprised to hear that his real gift is his overwhelming sense of caring, concern, interest and service at a human and very personal level. Despite his very substantial organizational responsibilities, it is these latter characteristics that are at the forefront of Paul's ministry already. However, the extent to which he or Fr John can move out into the community such as house visiting is limited until their Centre is constructed, as they could be accused of proselytising(?) and be subject to eviction. Whilst Paul also says a regular Sunday mass in English in one of the three parish churches and Fr John does work with the Mission founded by Mother Theresa, the scope of their apostolic activity is limited until their new centre is complete.

In addition, Paul visits each of the locations where there is a Vincentian presence in the three countries for which he is responsible. Each such trip would be of about two weeks duration and he does such a trip 3-4 times per year. There are five centres in Belarus, Ukraine and the Ural region of Siberia. The territory is so vast that it covers five time zones. The Ukraine itself is 600,000 square miles - larger than France! Paul's journey from Kiev to the most Eastern outpost of his territory near Yeletogenbuz involves 32 hours of flight/train and 2,500 kilometres. There are 23 priests working with Paul in these places, mostly in one man parishes. There are also 13 clerical students.

The job that Paul has undertaken is a daunting one. Just as the missionaries of years ago needed support, I am sure Paul would welcome any form of support any of us may be able to offer him from time to time.

If you would like to send any funds to Paul, funds can be directed to him through Fr. Bernard Meade C.M.,Vincentian Provincial Office, St Paul's, Sybil Hill, Raheny, Dublin 5. The A/C name is "Vincentian Mission Eastern Europe" (Euro €.), A/C no. 2122 8397, Bank Code: 900623, Bank of Ireland, Phibsboro, Dublin 7. Tel (01) 830 1799.As a rule of thumb, one € spent in Ukraine will purchase FIVE times what it would purchase in Ireland. Also Paul is accessible by email, his address is [email protected]. For anyone interested in travelling to Kiev, the best ways seem to be from Dublin via either Prague or Budapest. Return flights can be obtained for circa €350/400. The aggregate flight time is only about 5 hours each way. A visa is also required. It must be obtained from "Visa Section, Embassy of Ukraine, Ground Floor, 78 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2PL. Allow circa 10 days between sending visa application and its return.