By Joyce Coronel, The Catholic Sun
SCOTTSDALE – – The power of prayer and the help of technology have united two families thousands of miles apart in an international rescue operation. And all this at the instigation of two 12-year-old girls.
Sixth-grade students at St. John XXIII Catholic School in Scottdale, Lexi Bastian and Zofia Pajic are classmates. When Lexi offered a heartfelt prayer for her loved ones in Ukraine to stay safe amid an escalating war and growing humanitarian crisis, Zofia was moved to tell her native mother. Polish, Kasia.
“We’re friends. We communicate about homework and everything, but we’re not like buddies,” Kasia Pajic said of the Bastians. “We know each other and say hello when picking up, but we weren’t friends on a very personal note, I would say.”
Everything changed when a text message landed on Kasia’s phone one Sunday morning. It was Lexi’s mother, Dianna.
“Do you happen to know anyone in Poland who would be willing to rent an apartment somewhere for my family members once they cross the Polish border from Lviv, Ukraine? Maybe for about three months? » the message read in part. The text went on to describe the declining health and limited mobility of Dianna’s aunt and uncle who are in their late 80s and their 50-year-old daughter caring for them. “They’re so traumatized right now.”
Kasia, who was born in Poland and came to the United States with her parents when she was 7, called her mother, but to find out more. Nobody, it seems, had a vacancy.
“Then, on a whim, I contacted our cousin who lives in Poland,” Kasia said. She told him about the Ukrainian family seeking refuge.
Kasia and her Polish cousin used Facebook Messenger to communicate. “She wrote back to me and said, ‘We have a house. It is in the countryside.
The two bedroom house has a bathroom and a kitchen. “It’s a small house in a small town. The only downside is a wood burning furnace so they would just have to get up in the morning and fill it up. Like a cabin, you know? Kasia said.
But there was more. The Polish cousin asked if the Ukrainian family should be picked up at the border.
“I wasn’t going to ask,” Kasia said, adding that she didn’t dare ask for more favors. The cousin offered to see what she could arrange.
That’s when Dianna Bastian gave Kasia’s phone number to Andre, the elderly Ukrainian couple’s son who lives on the east coast here in the US and was frantically trying to help his parents get out of Ukraine. war-torn.
On Tuesday morning, Andre called Kasia and told her that her family would be at the Ukraine-Poland border at 2 p.m. that day. Kasia called her cousins to alert them. It would be an 8 or 9 hour drive to the meeting point.
“The crossing can take two hours or two days,” Kasia said, but in this case her Polish cousins waited around 3 or 4 hours.
“Nobody knew each other,” Kasia said. “I didn’t even know what André looked like.” They exchanged photos of their loved ones by text message so that they recognized each other at the crossing point.
“It was back and forth: ‘Here is the person you pick up, this is the person who picks you up. “”
Around 10 p.m. that evening, the three Ukrainians were able to cross the border and were met by Kasia’s Polish cousins. When they met, they discovered that they could communicate with each other in English.
“Now they are in a safe place.”
Did they need food, medicine or supplies? Kasia asked her Polish cousin, Adam. The family had fled for their lives without having time to pack a toothbrush or basic necessities.
“All he said was, ‘They just want to lay down and rest. They want to rest now that there’s no more sirens going off and there’s no no chance of someone bombing the place.
faith in action
Dianna Bastian knows well the crushing hardships endured by refugees. She is a first-generation American of 100% Ukrainian descent.
“My mother fled the Russians in 1949 with her sister, my grandmother and my grandfather. They lived through much the same thing: terror, shooting, the occupation of Ukraine by the Russians,” she said. His mother’s family traveled countless miles to Poland and then Germany before emigrating to the United States
Ukrainian was Dianna’s first language, and she grew up listening to stories of the horrors of war. “Why do old people always talk about war? she wondered.
She was in contact with her family members in Ukraine in January and asked them about the growing hostilities. “They weren’t really concerned. They didn’t think this conflict would escalate to the point where it did, so they made no preparations to leave.
“Even the last few days when we were trying to convince them to leave, they didn’t want to leave.” But as the fighting around them intensified, the air raid sirens sounded, and the shelling of neighborhoods increased, they hurried to bomb shelters.
“They are using the kyiv subways as bomb shelters. Everyone slept there on yoga mats, and they shared all their food and water.
So how does it feel to know that complete strangers were willing to drive for hours to the Ukrainian border to save people they didn’t even know?
“Prayer completely brought us together and it was through prayer that I thought, ‘I’m going to reach out to Kasia and tell her what’s going on and see if she can help,'” Dianna said. “She honked her horn right away and was able to facilitate that.”
It was a five or six hour drive from Kasia’s cousin’s house to reach the Ukrainian border. “Being so kind and loving and caring to drive roughly from here to San Diego, that distance for someone you don’t know, to help them cross the border, and then bring them back to where you can provide them. housing, food, a clean place to stay with no bombs going off, no air raid sirens going off – I mean, it’s really comforting.
“It’s a story of faith in action. No one told him he had to. He just took it upon himself to go get them.
Kasia, who grew up in a multi-generational household that included grandparents and two maternal aunts who survived the horrors of World War II, said that, like Dianna, she often heard stories about how members of the family had to run for their lives.
“I grew up listening to stories of war and escape, so I felt the pain of this family,” Kasia said of Dianna’s loved ones. Overwhelmed with emotion, her voice trembles. “I can only imagine my grandparents, how helpless I would feel if I was here in the United States and there’s really nothing you can do.”
She said she thanked her Polish cousin Adam profusely for helping the Ukrainians. “It was the right thing to do,” he told her.
“I think it’s important to also remember to ask for help even if the situation is helpless. Put your faith in God and let Jesus take the wheel,” Kasia said.
Preston Colao, director of St. John XXIII where the Bastian and Pajic families connected, said the rescue effort was an example of how prayer makes a difference.
“It wouldn’t have happened in a public school, and it’s really a blessing for these two families,” Colao said. Since news broke of the two sixth graders who, along with their families, helped three Ukrainians flee their war-torn homeland, parishioners of St. Bernadette in nearby Scottsdale have come forward to offer – or ask – for help.
“We’re starting to see it coming out now, others that we could help out of this story of these two little girls,” Colao said.
Prayers for conversion
Prof. Andriy Chirovsky, a Ukrainian Catholic priest who lives in Flagstaff, said many people wonder if prayer makes a difference in the situation in Ukraine.
“I tell people, ‘Are you kidding me? What gives these grandmothers the courage to stand up to the Russian army? The stories of courage, standing in front and kneeling in front of the tanks? Or the people who come out and are surrounded by Russian troops from all sides, and they stand there with their Ukrainian flags, and they say, ‘Go home! What are you doing here?'”
Pr. Chirovsky also encourages people to pray for the conversion of Vladamir Putin. “They’re angry and they’re like, ‘Let him go to hell,’ and I’m like, ‘No, we have to pray. God doesn’t want a sinner to die but to repent and live.
“And imagine if he went through a conversion experience?” Putin, P. Chirovsky says, “plays a game of being a Russian Orthodox Christian but obviously actions speak louder than words.
“I love telling this story. Who united Ukrainian minds? Stalin. Who united Ukrainian hearts? Putin. God makes all things work out for good for those who love him and even the evil works of those men inspired by completely evil intentions.
“It’s amazing how three lives have been saved because of the prayer intention of a 12-year-old girl, my Lexi,” Dianna said. “Kasia’s family is truly the salt of the earth. They gave themselves willingly because they saw a need and heard a call for help from people they didn’t even know.
“This should be the knee-jerk reaction of any Catholic witnessing human suffering. It’s the perfect story of faith in action and I’m so glad our daughters witnessed it firsthand.