Over borscht, pierogies, stuffed cabbage and more, parishioners from St. Justin Martyr and St. Catherine Laboure became a little more familiar with their neighbors from St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church.
About 175 people from the south St. Louis County parishes and elsewhere gathered for a traditional Ukrainian dinner, talk and fellowship April 22 at St. Justin Martyr. The event’s proceeds went toward the groceries and transportation fund for recently arrived immigrants and their sponsoring families at St. Mary’s Assumption.
“We’re going to try to help whoever needs it,” said Olga Shulga, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Assumption.
Shulga, who has lived in St. Louis for about 12 years, was one of 11 cooks who prepared and served five dishes and an assortment of sweets. After dinner, 15-year-old Julia Tabaka, who was born in the United States to Ukrainian parents, led a prayer and gave a short talk on the history of Ukraine, including its relationship with Russia over the years.
While the fundraising aspect of the dinner focused on the immediate needs of immigrants fleeing the ongoing war, the evening was also a chance to share the history and traditions of Ukraine beyond the tragic stories in the news today, Shulga said.
“Most people now know where Ukraine is, but they don’t know what’s behind all of this mess,” Shulga said.
The event was an effort of St. Justin Martyr and St. Catherine Laboure’s collaborative Faith and Immigration Justice program, which examines immigration from a Christian perspective over eight sessions.
Cathy Griner, a parishioner at St. Catherine Laboure, was one of the facilitators of the program in fall 2022. As the program was wrapping up, members wanted to find ways to connect locally with immigrants — and they didn’t have to look very far, Griner said.
“We decided to go to St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Church, which is in South County; it’s very close to us,” she said. “And the people there, they sat down with us after their (Divine Liturgy) just talk to us about their church and the people that come to it.”
Sharon Book, a parishioner at St. Justin Martyr who participated in Faith and Immigration Justice, has worked with Shulga for nearly nine years. Book and Shulga would often discuss events in Ukraine and the number of people seeking refuge in St. Louis, Book said, so she could clearly see the chance to connect the groups.
“There’s people that want to help people, and there’s people who need help — let’s bring them together,” she said.
Those relationships are key to truly living out our faith through loving our neighbors, Book said. One of her main takeaways from the Faith and Immigration Justice program — and the Ukrainian dinner — was that getting to know people with different experiences than your own is absolutely essential.
“Let’s spread this word, let’s get to know a different group — not just stay in our own little silo or our own little world of what you know, but broaden it out,” she said.