An Anglican-Jesuit Cooperation to Help War-stricken Ukrainians

An American priest of Hungarian and Polish origin, his English bishop in the European Diocese in Brussels, an Anglican community in Budapest, and a joint ecumenical project with the Hungarian Jesuits to assist the refugees in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine. Read further for the fruitful results of this most colourful combination.

“The Jesuits taught me how to think.” It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the previous utterance in a man’s life. Namely reverend dr. Frank Hegedűs’s, who completed his undergraduate studies in 1971 at the Jesuit Saint Louis University in the United States, and has been serving as pastor and area dean of Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Hungary for the past decade. He has had several occasions to work with Hungarian Jesuits, especially with father Levente Harai, conducting weddings and baptisms, and once he preached at an English-language ecumenical service at the Jesuit Church in Budapest.

Revd. Frank Hegedűs with Revd. Solomon Ekiyor, a refugee from Ukraine and his family

No wonder, when it came to considering an ecumenical partnership to assist the Ukrainian refugees, he immediately thought of the members of the Society of Jesus, for whom “I have a high regard”. This is the point where personal experience and community service has a fortunate rendezvous, resulting in the beginning, or rather, sustaining of “a beautiful friendship” between Hungarian Anglicans and Jesuits. Through a lay co-worker of the Hungarian province, who is a longtime friend of St. Margaret’s, reverend Frank contacted the Jesuit director of the Hungarian Jesuit Refugee Service, father Szabolcs Sajgó, and proposed a professional and financial cooperation.

Father Szabolcs Sajgó, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, being interviewed on the occasion of a two truckload donation heading to Ukraine

His initiative is based upon this year’s Lent and Easter appeal of Robert Innes, bishop of the Anglican Diocese in Europe, to assist people in need. “My annual Lent appeal normally goes just to members of our Diocese and it usually raises about 15,000 euros. This year’s appeal was extended to include Easter. We teamed up with an Anglican mission agency, advertised it around the Anglican world, and as a result we raised more than 300,000 euros. People responded with great generosity. I was particularly humbled to receive a donation of £1000 from the Anglican Church in Bangladesh”, says the bishop.

Robert Innes, Anglican bishop of the Diocese in Europe

The key factor of the success was definitely the fact that this year’s collection focused on the needs of Ukrainians affected by the war, especially the ones staying in their homeland, and partly those who had fled the country. This means in particular neighbouring states like Poland and Hungary, but the Anglican diocese also has projects much further West, for example in Paris and Brussels.

Since the work of the diocese in Ukraine is rather limited, the best way to help was via other ecumenical partners with humanitarian operations in Ukraine. The diocese made donations to Caritas, and then came father Frank Hegedűs’s initiative to collaborate with the Hungarian Jesuits. “They have a fine reputation for evangelism and education and a commitment to social justice. I have particularly appreciated working with Jesuit colleagues in Brussels in the ecumenical ‘Chapel for Europe’, which serves EU officials. So another opportunity to work with a respected ecumenical partner organisation is something I very much welcome”, explains bishop Robert why he resonated to the cooperation at once.

As far as the project itself is concerned, subsidized by Anglican mission agency United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG), it aims to build a garden pavilion for refugees in Uzhhorod/Ungvár at the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine. One of the partner organisations of the Hungarian Jesuit Refugee Service is the local Catholic College, which, since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, has been inhabited by more than sixty refugees, some of them elderly, some of them children and women. Since its garden is quite unusable for refugees, the locals started to build a bigger garden pavilion – with a heating-cooling system, independent of gas –, where community life can take place. Besides, the chapel of the college, which is a place for prayer for refugees as well, needs refurbishment and furniture, thus the whole project costs 6300 euros, of which USPG covers 5000 euros in  two or three batches. “The project should help Ukrainians not to leave the country if it is not absolutely needed. And as we know, it is much better to stay in the homeland than to become a refugee out of the country”, summarizes father Szabolcs Sajgó.

“Act like a good atheist”

An interview with Rev. Frank Hegedűs

– You are an American with a Hungarian name, living in Budapest. What is the story of your family in a nutshell?
– My father was born in a small Greek Catholic village, Kány, in Eastern Hungary in 1911. The family emigrated to Michigan in the United States shortly after his birth, and I was born there many years later. My mother was Polish, and we only spoke English at home.
– Have you had a personal experience with the refugees fleeing from our Eastern neighbor?
– My first experience with refugees from the war in Ukraine was with a group of Nigerian medical students and junior doctors who came to us at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church and remained in Budapest for a month or so while they planned their future steps. They were accompanied by their Anglican priest, Archdeacon Solomon Ekiyor.
– Have you ever been to Ukraine?
– The Anglicans of Central and Eastern Europe held their annual Synod in Kiev in 2018, which I attended.  I found Kiev to be a beautiful and bustling city filled with kind and energetic people.  I am very much saddened by the tragedy which has befallen them. I would love to visit Uzhhorod, where the Jesuit project we helped fund is located.
– What does the Anglican church in Hungary do for the people in need in general, and for the refugees, in particular for the ones coming from Ukraine?
– Our church community financially assists the Menedékház, a home for homeless families and their children. The Menedékház now also assists such families from Ukraine.  One of our members has also founded a day-care centre for Ukrainian parents and their children, and we assist this programme called Ukrainian Space. We also help the Next Step programme in their efforts to provide food and meals to refugees from Ukraine.
–  Once you said that a real Christian should act like a good atheist, when it comes to helping the people in need. Could you elaborate on that?
–  I was thinking of a book by that title, the Good Atheist, and of a statement of Pope Francis, that “atheists should be seen as good people.” I completely agree with this sentiment.  And of course the earliest Christians were themselves considered atheists by the society in which they lived.

Frissítve: 2022. szeptember 10.