Brother Andrzej Mońka, a Dominican seminarian in Krakow, received permission to house refugees at the priory. "This isn't a normal time. We won't be doing this for years. But this is a war. It's just the Gospel,” he explains.
“I have my comprehensive exams next week and a retreat to prepare,” says Brother Andrzej Mońka, a Dominican seminarian in Krakow, “but of course, that’s not the main thing. It’s obvious for us that we have to help.”
For over two weeks now, Mońka has coordinated the response of the Dominican priory in Krakow. The priory has, to date, housed temporarily 108 Ukrainian refugees. Today there are almost 50 guests living in its walls.
“I asked the student master [the priest who oversees Dominican seminarians] to do something,” explains Mońka. “I was eager to help organize places for refugees here in the priory,” he says. Under the direction of the prior and the priory council (the superior of the community and its governing council) Mońka was given permission to begin to prepare unused places for guests.
The Dominican priory in Krakow is a massive complex. The Dominicans have lived and prayed here for 800 years, since St. Dominic sent St. Hyacinth to establish the order in Poland. The saintly founder is entombed in Holy Trinity Basilica, an ancient church which is part of the priory complex.
The Dominicans are well known in Krakow. They sponsor many thriving ministries in this community. From the Dominican Liturgical Center which composes and teaches liturgical music to the lively university chaplaincy (colloquially known as “Beczka”). They’ve relied on this network of friends to help them host refugees. “We’ve invited many people to help us, says Mońka. “We had to prepare the apartments quickly. There was a lot of cleaning and moving furniture to be ready to welcome our guests,” he explains. Students and regular Mass goers joined in to wash windows, scrub floors, make beds, and fill shopping lists.
“We are deeply moved by the stories of our guests,” says Mońka. “One guy arrived with a broken leg, Mońka shares. “He had to escaped – he was chained up – so they had to break his hip.” When he arrived, he required immediate and substantial medical attention.
“We hosted a Muslim family too,” Mońka says. “They prayed inside the priory, even, using a carpet as is their custom. For us, it was an exotic experience,” admits the young Dominican.
“Right now we have a little, little child staying with us,” recounts Mońka. “Today this baby is eighteen days old. You can imagine what this mother is feeling. It’s difficult for a mother to give birth normally. Think of suffering postpartum depression, while trying to escape the war. Lacking sleep, going from place to place, not being able to stay at home, and doing all this without your husband.” Fortunately one of the guests currently staying with the Dominicans is a doctor. The other Ukrainian families support this mother too.
Mońka says that it was pure shock for the friars when the war began. “Even our brothers from Ukraine and Russia didn’t expect it,” he says. “It’s tough to see all the images. War nowadays is a different thing than it used to be. It’s not like during WWII when you just heard on the radio that somewhere killing is happening. But now you see the people, their faces, buildings…you can follow everything that’s going on. It’s terrifying,” he says.
But for Mońka, who is preparing for his comprehensive theological exams at the university and to be ordained a priest in a matter of weeks, the work is simply what the Gospel demands. “I was afraid, at first, that the brothers would criticize this work, since it’s not really our charism,” he admits. “But this isn’t a normal time. We won’t be doing this for years. But this is a war. It’s just the Gospel,” he explains. “Within our tradition we have a lot of examples of people who I think would help. Think of Martin de Porres,” he says.
While Mońka led the charge to initiate the work, now the entire community is pitching in. When families arrived at the priory, Mońka assigns them a Dominican seminarian who serves as their host. Revealing the pressing need for rooms for refugees, Mońka shares, “The very first night, before we set up a system, I had five calls. So I just got three hours of sleep.” But now there’s an organized nightshift for the friars’ refugee hotline and other brothers are taking the nighttime calls.
“It’s very demanding work,” admits Mońka. “I am joking that at least I have had the chance to be a real deacon for two weeks.” He believes that caring for those in need in a time like this is a deacon’s work par excellence. “I can really serve as a deacon for two weeks, and for me it’s a great preparation for priesthood. Now is the time for living the essence of the Gospel,” he concludes with a smile.