Chairman of the Board of Ukraine 3000 Charitable Foundation

 

Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”

Opening: “Perspectives of cooperative movement in Ukraine in terms of public policy”

June, 13

 

Dear friends,

 

We each come to God, we each come to our own understanding of God’s path for us, in our own unique way.

 

Blessed and fortunate are those who have discovered that, as the 14th Proverb says, “He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth, but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.”

 

That when we help the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, when we show compassion, we are serving God, we are bringing ourselves closer to his presence. That there is a rent we pay for our place in this world, and that is the service we render others. That, as a great businessman and humanitarian once said, “The human being who lives only for himself finally reaps nothing but unhappiness -- selfishness corrodes, unselfishness enobles”.

 

Many months ago, I had the honor to meet with Rector Borys Gudziak to talk about the development of his university. During that conversation, I mentioned my hope to organize a conference where our many confessions could come together and learn from each other how to address our country’s many social problems, how to involve more of their parishioners, our citizens, in serving the needy. And he told me of this conference, the Ecumenical Week -- already planned. And it made me realize that many of us understood -- it is time.

 

It is time in Ukraine for our churches and our believers to come together to find mutual understanding, to find common goals, to build on the basic moral principles that unite us all, and that indeed are a fundamental part of our heritage, to work together to create a society that reflects our values, that provides opportunity and justice, that involves individuals and the organizations they create in resolving the many problems of our community.

 

OUR OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE OUR SOCIETY

We are living in a unique time in our nation’s history. A time that many generations of our forefathers dreamed to see, that they fought and died to achieve. A time that is not simple, but that gives us the freedom and opportunity to build our country and to influence our society. Finally, a time when we have the liberty to come together and tell our authorities the direction in which our country should go, instead of feebly and obediently receiving its dictates. A time when we understand our Christian duty and privilege to serve others, and not be pushed aside and told that all social issues are the responsibility of the state, and the state only.

 

And our society, with its many ups and downs, achievements and failures, joys and agonies, is rising to the occasion.

 

First, millions of our citizens came together in the Fall of 2004 to demand -- peacefully, optimistically and strongly – a political strructure based on freedom, openness, justice and opportunity. They showed the world, eloquently and beautifully, that Ukraine is a civilized, European nation with a bright future.

 

And, since our independence, we have truly built a civil society, a participatory public, we have created thousands of new, active organizations. Students and youth, churches, parents, women, business people, professionals, workers, journalists, minorities have begun to explore opportunities to have their voice heard.

 

We have seen a new understanding of philanthropy on the part of our wealthy – whether their wealth was legally or illegally gained, of growing corporate responsibility on the part of companies, and charity on the part of individuals and the groups they form.

 

 

When my Foundation was raising funds for the Children’s Hospital of the Future, I was stunned by the participation of 600,000 Ukrainian citizens calling in their 5 hryvnia by mobile phone. I was touched that some of the contributions came from the most unlikely but heartwarming sources – such as the children from Novobohdanivka who sold handmade items during their time at Artek and sent their earnings, or children from the orphanage for disabled children who sent us their several hundred hryvnya.

 

It has been gratifying to see the work of the Boards of Trustees that have been formed at each of the 25 children’s hospitals participating in our Hospital to Hospital program. Local government and business leaders, doctors and youth have joined together to help their local children’s hospitals by buying equipment, repairing old buildings, giving gifts and holidays to sick children.

 

And, recently, I was truly moved by the schools and pupils who participated in the first year of our Foundation’s new program, “Dobro pochynaitsya z Tebe”. Pupils from 112 different schools representing all oblasts in our country showed that the calling to do good things, whether it is helping the elderly, cleaning up the environment, visiting the sick or saving animals, is integral to their hearts and souls. That they can do this effectively and passionately. That they can impress their teachers and parents, and even themselves, with their achievements in the area of charity.

 

I know that this conference started with an award for winners of the competition of drawings and essays, “Podbay pro blyzhnyoho”. Again, this shows that we are all moving in the same direction, that we all recognize the same goals and means, and maybe, that all our ideas and projects are part of God’s great plan.

 

I strongly believe that children naturally want to do good things. They need to be encouraged to do so, and taught to do so, by their parents, church, school, youth organizations and media – in short, by society.

 

It is time for us to reinstitute our tradition of doing good in our country, to reinvigorate our pre-Soviet Christian values, and convey them to our youth. It will give them confidence, it will give them meaning.

 

I have seen orphans, when helping ill children, empowered by the feeling that they are needed. I have seen young people blossom when they meet and help their elders, learn from the wisdom of their experience. I have seen little children, 6 years old, showing compassion and understanding of the disabled that we adults can only envy. And I have seen young people move forward with a new determination when they learn the true history of their nation and their people, when they fully appreciate Ukraine’s deep culture and traditions.

 

It is my hope that, over time, all our schools will institute such programs of charity. That they encourage and reward pupils for their efforts and successes, while not making this volunteerism mandatory. That universities will consider it necessary for a young person to demonstrate his social activism as a requirement for entering a prestigious university, that this becomes a sign that this is a well-rounded, conscientious human being, an individual who has the moral upbringing to use the knowledge he gains in science, law or the arts humanely and wisely.

 

THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH AND ITS BELIEVERS

 

And what of the role of the churches? Christ told us, “when you gave to the least, you gave to me”.

 

The work of wonderful organizations such as Caritas, of which I am a long admirer, many Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant organizations, have shown the deep compassion of the believers of our country.

 

I have been truly awed by the work of some of our churches. I remember driving by an Orthodox church in the city of Zhytomyr. For some reason, though it was not on our schedule, I felt the need to stop there. And I found a priest who had accomplished miraculous things. Hundreds of children were attending his Sunday school and summer camps, dozens of women parishioners were distributing to the poor clothes and other items collected by the church.

 

And I remember by own church in Chicago, and others like it throughout the diaspora, built penny by penny gathered by its parishioners, most of the funds raised when our mothers made varenyky and sold them, week after week, year after year, to the local communities. And the credit union, which, by accumulating the small savings of our entire community, was able to provide money to the church, youth and community organizations, loans for homes and education, small businesses, credits to start our newspapers and shops, homes for old people and hospices.

 

On the other hand, I have also met priests who have told me that they are not really engaging in social work, because they do not know how. And this is where conferences such as the one we are attending today can make a huge impact. It can encourage and teach very well-intentioned but inexperienced clergy how to help their parishioners find salvation through their good works. How to improve our country and society, how to make the lives and souls of our people better. How to overcome a bitter legacy, how to embrace the best of the past and reject what was evil.

 

And I hope that we can indeed plan follow up programs to this Ecumenical Week, where our various confessions can come together to learn from each other, to coordinate activities, to distribute responsibilities.

 

AND WHAT ABOUT THE ROLE OF THE STATE?

It is time for us to realize that the state is us, that we are the state. Its successes are our successes, its failures ours as well. When we complain that the state is not doing what we want, that we are pointing the finger at ourselves. When we show apathy, we are condemning ourselves to the mercies of others. We pay out of our own pockets for all our state’s programs, we feel on our own skins all its decisions.

 

I would argue that it is also the role of the church to teach its parishioners to act as responsible citizens. To love their country, to pray for its future and for its leaders, but also to take responsibility for its development. To vote, to form groups to influence decisions, to build strong institutions, to refuse to engage in corruption, to reject selling out its future for the sake of short-term, miniscule benefits. If the faithful fail to do this, the task will be left to the unbelievers, and that is a frightening proposition.

And the state needs to do what it can to encourage both the physical and moral health and education of its citizens. To support the study of Christian morality and ethics, Ukrainian history, volunteerism and charity in schools, theology in university. To encourage charity and corporate responsibility in society. To implement policies and programs that improve social welfare, education, health and culture, while discouraging theft, corruption, injustice.

 

It is unacceptable that the state levies taxes on good deeds. If I give a parent money for his child’s medical treatment, if you give an orphaned student a stipend, if he gives a foreign shipment of food to an orphan, if she gives a book to a new mother – we are all required to pay the state a significant tax to do so. That is not right. And here, despite the criticism leveled at me by the media, I am not calling for benefits to oligarchs. I am asking our government and parliament to do what most other civilized nations do and quit penalizing every citizen, organization and foundation for helping the state solve its dire social problems. Yes, the state must avoid misuse. But, like other governments have managed, I know our authorities can find a way to ban corruption without banning good deeds.

 

CONCLUSION

The challenges our nation faces are formidable. They include protecting the independence and sovereignty we have been given, perhaps too easily for all its citizens to appreciate their worth. They include reinforcing our identity by learning our history, appreciating our heroes, loving our culture, following our traditions.

 

These challenges include building a political and economic system that ensures democracy and justice, prosperity, economic freedom and property rights for all citizens, economic independence, an efficient medical system, equal opportunity for women, minorities and the disabled, and an educational system that prepares students for a new world with new opportunities and challenges, while also providing a strong moral foundation based on the eternal values of belief in God, country and family.

 

The role of the church, and through it the family and individuals, is to encourage those moral values and traditions that are fundamental to our very nature, to our soul. To reject those seeking to tear down, the forces working to destroy Ukraine’s past, Ukraine’s present and Ukraine’s future. I believe that you can always find devil in negativism and cynicism, and you can find God in good deeds, optimism and charity.

 

Thank you for coming together today to build, to unite, to find common ground.