A hospital chaplain has asked ACN for financial help to renovate sections of the Orthodox Children’s Hospice he founded in Saint Petersburg
For seventeen years now ACN has been supporting the Orthodox Children’s Hospice in Saint Petersburg. The hospice is a first of its kind, founded in 2003 by the Orthodox priest Father Aleksandr Tkachenko. Prior to setting-up of this special and desperately needed haven for sick children, he received a special formation in the United States as a hospital chaplain. At the time, he could see that in Russia was in urgent need for better care facilities for incurably sick children and their families. Before the creation of the hospice, it was common practice to send children home from the hospital when hope for any further successful treatment of their condition was exhausted, leaving families to cope on their own.
Father Alexander began small at first. Still a young priest at the time, he packed a car full of medicines and equipment and visited the children and their families at home. He soon discovered that this was not enough, and so, working closely with specialists, doctors and psychologists, he founded the first ever Children’s Hospice in Saint Petersburg. Now, not only were the sick kids cared for by competent medical staff, but both they and their families were lovingly supported around the clock.
The help offered by the hospice ranges from a whole variety of different therapies aimed at improving the quality of life of the children, through to the loving effort to explore every imaginable way of giving joy and happiness to these children and enabling them to live out their childhood as happily and normally as possible.
How Crucial is a Pastoral Presence
Most of the hospice patients suffer from incurable cancers. By the time they arrive they have become so accustomed to their own solitude, suffering and isolation that it is sometimes difficult to motivate them to open up to play or engage in other recreational activities. This is where social workers and specialists come in and give special care to these children providing loving sensitivity; doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, priests and volunteer helpers work hand in hand, to ease the heavy burden borne by these children and their parents.
In all this the pastoral aspect is of crucial importance. “We don’t preach to people as they lie in their beds, but in situations like these it is the people themselves who come to us with many and very profound questions. As priests, we endeavour to help them to find some inner peace,” says Father Alexander. The hospital also supports families who care for their children at home, with medical, psychological and pastoral support and counselling.
A Second Hospice in Moscow
A second hospice has now been opened in Moscow and the priest’s example has inspired others. Father Alexander, who is now Archpriest Alexander in recognition of his work, is today widely consulted as an expert in the field of hospice work.
His hospice has been visited by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who was deeply impressed. Asked in an interview about an incident in his life that had particularly moved him, he spoke of his visit to Father Alexander’s hospice. And on many other occasions the patriarch has publicly praised this project.
Catholic and Russian Orthodox Working Together
For ACN this project is one of the most beautiful and successful examples of the fruitful and constructive collaboration it has helped to sponsor between the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia for almost 30 years. And since the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba in February 2016 this collaboration has deepened. To this end, an ecumenical working party was set up to review and identify concrete projects to work on, and promoting a regular exchange of ideas and experience between the two sister Churches.
Father Alexander’s Children’s Hospice is a shining example of this practical collaboration on behalf of the poor and suffering, while at same time he himself is frequently invited to speak at ecumenical conferences in the fields of ethics, hospice work and the pastoral care of the sick.
But now the building in Saint Petersburg in which the first Children’s Hospice is still housed today, is in need of extensive renovation. We at ACN want to give them a contribution of $43,500.
Would you like to help us reach this goal! Donate below to the Project of the Week.