Pray for peace, work to help: “Our call is to resist evil”

The local community’s response to the humanitarian relief campaign organized by St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead has been overwhelming and uplifting, Reverend Bohdan Hedz, pastor of the church, said today.

“We were hoping to fill one truckload of items by Friday,” Hedz said, “instead, we filled four trucks.”

The Peconic Bay Medical Center donated two truckloads of medical supplies, he said.

This morning, at the end of the first of two Sunday liturgical services at Riverhead Church, Hedz updated parishioners on the status of the church’s efforts.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the soft-spoken, bespectacled Ukrainian-born priest told those gathered for the English service.

Members of the congregation volunteered long hours and worked tirelessly late into the night to organize and pack donated items collected by the church.

Volunteers, including the pastor, drove a van filled with donations to a drop-off point in New Jersey, from where the supplies are shipped to Ukraine.

Hedz asked for patience. “I’ve had people yell at me,” Hedz said, when he told them the church couldn’t accept donations of items at this time that aren’t on a need list. immediate requests requested by volunteers in Ukraine.

“I never say no. I say please hold on. We will need them later, but right now we need these things,” he said. “So please don’t be mad at me. Please don’t yell at me. We are constrained for our space. We don’t have a big warehouse to store things,” Hedz said.

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“Evil will be defeated”

The priest then referred to reports of people posting “threatening” messages on social media against members of the Russian community.

“Please don’t do this. Don’t be like the Russian aggressors attacking our homeland. They live on threats and fear,” Hedz said.

“I understand everyone’s emotion. Everyone is angry. Everyone is sad. There are a lot of emotions. If you know Russians who support Putin and live near you, don’t talk to them. Pray for them. Pray for them,” he urged.

“Don’t make threats. Don’t be like that. Don’t be like the people who are now crucifying our homeland. Be better – and you can be better,” he said.

“I tell you this as your spiritual leader. Take that negative energy and channel it into something good. Come here and help,” he said.

Then Hedz turned to the subject of the war itself and the images of devastation and despair coming out of his native land.

“Cities are decimated and razed. It’s sad for me to see pictures of cities I knew, where I’ve been. I walked those streets – they don’t exist now,” Hedz said.

“Official statistics indicate that 38 children died. I’m afraid the number is bigger. It’s just something incredible,” he said.

“I hope the world will open its mind and start to act. Politicians are afraid of Mr. Putin but ordinary people are not afraid. And I have seen this outcry and I have seen the response from local communities These simple people – they understand,” Hedz said.

He urged parishioners to get in touch with their elected officials.

“Tell them what you think, tell them what to do. You elected them. They are your representatives, so talk to them. Tell them. We have to be vocal,” he said.

“Each of us has our part to do and whatever you can do, do it. This is our call: stand up to evil.

He urged people not to lose faith. “Push harder. Pray harder. And we will overcome. Make no mistake. We will win. Evil will be defeated,” Hedz said.

“Sir. Putin was wrong. He said the war will be over in three or four days. He was wrong. He is now entering the 11th day. We are still here. Ukraine is still here,” said the priest.

St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead on March 6. Photo: Denise Civiletti

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