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Ukrainian faith leader and displaced person named as Presbyterian Peacemaker

Yuriy Lifanse will share about ministering in the midst of war

by Layton Williams Berkes | Presbyterian News Service

Yuriy Lifanse

Yuriy Lifanse has been named as a 2023 International Peacemaker for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. He is a leader in the Community of Sant’Egidio, an international lay Catholic association committed to social service, which was founded in 1968 and has about 50,000 members worldwide.

Lifanse describes the primary work of Sant’Egidio in Ukraine as serving those who are poor, orphaned, elderly, lonely and the children of Romani families.

“We organize groups of volunteers to serve these people, with the aim of distributing food, clothing, moral support, restoration of documents and socialization, and also for joint prayer,” Lifanse said.

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Lifanse worked as a professor of Italian language at Pavel Chubinsky Academy of Arts and served as a leader in the Community of Sant’Egidio in Kyiv, Ukraine. He was forced to evacuate his home at the beginning of the war, and now resides in Lviv as an internally displaced person (IDP). In Lviv, he serves as director of the Sant’Egidio community, which has developed a program to serve other IDPs affected by the war.

Four employees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency — the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Susan Krehbiel, Luciano Kovacs, and Ellen Smith —visited with Lifanse and his community while on a trip across Eastern Europe to encounter the circumstances of Ukrainian refugees. Writing about Lifanse and the Sant’Egidio community in Lviv, Smith, a mission co-worker, reflected that “they know the statistics about IDPs often better than the government and work tirelessly to meet the overwhelming needs.”

That work has included sending trucks with food, medicine, and hygiene items to those in the gray zone around the active war zone, as well as maintaining a center where people can register for legal support, food, and emotional care.

“War is the time to fully understand how God cares about us,” said Lifanse, reflecting on his current ministry. “The Word of God gives words, feelings, gives an opportunity to understand more deeply what is happening to us. In tragic times, serving another person gives strength and hope to look to the future.”

Lifanse described the Presbyterian Church as “important friends” of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Ukraine. He said that he connected with Presbyterian church members several years ago and that they have helped Sant’Egidio in serving those who are poor. He has also appreciated the support of U.S. Presbyterians during the war.

“Already on the first day of the great war, I received a call from the USA: it was a call of friendship, solidarity and an offer of support,” he said. “I am very grateful for this faithful friendship and prayer.”

As a Peacemaker, Lifanse will travel around the United States later this year, speaking to PC(USA) congregations about his experiences working for justice and peace in his community. He hopes this opportunity will help U.S. Presbyterians better understand the struggles of living in the midst of war.

“I look forward to meeting with the parishioners of the Presbyterian Church in order to share with them the experience of living a Christian life in conditions of war and suffering,” Lifanse said. “Also, for the charism of the Community of St. Egidiо, the meeting is sacred. It is always an opportunity to find new brothers and sisters.”

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