Holy Week and Prescovia
I had already written my post for Holy Week. But last evening (March 30), I watched NBC evening news and met an elderly Ukrainian woman named Prescovia. That encounter made me write these words in my journal the next morning. I think they are fitting for Holy Week 2022.
March 31, 2022: Last night I woke at 1:30 and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Images from the war in Ukraine filled my head: hordes of people fleeing the country; cities, once beautiful, now rubble; terrified families packed in dark basements and tunnels during relentless bombings. But one elderly woman in particular took residence in my head, and she refused to let me sleep. Her name (I learned later) was Prescovia, and NBC reporter Richard Engel spotted her in her town that was recently reclaimed by the Ukrainian army. She was sitting in front of her small house. She sat alone and was sobbing. She had on a tan jacket (Mom had a jacket like that, I thought) with a tan babushka on her head. Her face was blotchy red—perhaps partly due to her tears. She was 88 years old and, through an interpreter, she wailed to Engel, “I lived through WWII! I can’t do this again! I can’t!” And then she blurted out things like, “I’m so afraid! At night I cover my head with a blanket and cry and cry. Look, my hands keep shaking! I can’t stop them.”
Her hands were indeed shaking. She tried to steady them by grabbing a stick (her cane?) Engel commented softly, “She is very confused.” (I thought, who isn’t?!) “She doesn’t know what’s happening.” (Who does? I thought.) Then Engel went to sit down beside her. They were a study in contrasts: he, an American, in his black bullet proof vest with the word PRESS blazoned in white letters across his chest. She, a Ukrainian, in her thin tan jacket. He, a young man wearing a helmet. She, a woman twice his age, wearing a babushka. As soon as he sat down next to her, she grabbed his hands almost ferociously. She seemed desperate to touch someone—anyone. She kept pouring her heart out to him although, I’m guessing, he didn’t understand a word she said. But he did understand her extreme distress. Then Prescovia grabbed his neck and pulled him toward herself. For a brief moment their foreheads seemed to touch. He didn’t pull away. I was moved by his willingness to allow this woman, in her anguish, to grab him in such a way. At the end of their encounter, he said softly to us, “Mostly, I think, she needed comfort.”
+ When I awoke the next morning, I wondered, Where is Prescovia? Is she okay? Who is watching over for her? She must belong to someone, no? Does she have children? Grandchildren? Neighbors? We all belong to someone, don’t we?
+ Later it dawned on me: the reporter’s name was Richard Engel. Engel in German means angel.
+ In that same newscast, they did a segment on several international organizations that focus on helping the elderly throughout the world. Some of them, with their volunteers, are already very active in Ukraine. One man, a native Ukrainian currently living in Portugal, returned to help in Ukraine where 1 out of 4 people is over 60. It takes a brutal war for me to learn of and appreciate such humanitarian organizations and the generous people who serve in them—war or no war.
+ In an email, I shared my restless night and this poor woman with a friend. He wrote back: “The little lady from Ukraine, by invading your sleep, became your prayer.” Yes, she did. She is no longer simply in my head. She has taken residence in my heart.
+ Someone has said you cannot begin to appreciate the vastness of the ocean until you have experienced a single drop of water. So too, we cannot begin to appreciate the magnitude of this war in Ukraine, until we see its devastating impact on a single precious human being named Prescovia.
This Holy Week, we commemorate several highly significant events in the life of Jesus. On Holy Thursday, we remember the washing of the feet, Jesus’ vivid call for us, his followers, to serve our brothers and sisters in need. I saw that kind of selfless service in the journalist risking his life to cover this terrible war, and in the volunteers trying to aid the elderly there. On Holy Thursday we also celebrate the giving of the gift of the Eucharist, the sacrament that gives us strength for our earthly pilgrimage. And how much we need God’s strength always, always, always. And on Good Friday, we contemplate Jesus’ terrible death on the cross, focusing on not merely how much he suffered, but also on how much he loved. We bring our own and the world’s pain and sorrows and fears and anguish to that cross, knowing that Jesus understands fully what we are experiencing, because he has been there… and (more importantly) he is here with us now. But Jesus’ story does not end on Good Friday. For, as Christians, we believe he rose from the dead on Easter. And through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is leading us all to everlasting life.
Did anything in this reflection touch your heart? If so, what?
Did any of the pictures strike you today? If so, which?
Of all the events we commemorate this week, is there one that stands out for you this year, Holy Week 2022?
I am offering you two short videos today. The first is from Taize. The second is a prayer for Ukraine.
This first video is a contemplative song from Taize: “Jesus, Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” These are the words spoken by the “good thief” to Jesus as they both were dying on the cross… The repetitive refrain is set against a wide variety of depictions of Good Friday—paintings, drawings, traditional icons, carvings…
This video came from a friend, Valerie. It is a prayer for Ukraine entitled “We Stand with You.” It was written by Penelope Salinger, a member of The Threshold Choir. This is a volunteer hospice choir that originated in Boston, but now has chapters all over the world. Its members bring songs of comfort to those on the threshold of life…
I invite you to respond to today’s blog below…
Sr Melannie, thank you for sharing Prescovia’s story, and the story of reporter Richard Engel being a listening solacing presence to an elderly woman in her unfathomable fears.
The Taizé chant is deeply affecting.
Blessings of Holy Week to all. Peace and light.
I did not see the NBC story so thank you for sharing it. I was very moved by it especially the reporter’s vulnerability to allow himself to connect with Prescovia. Praying for a change in the hearts of Russian leaders. With God all things are possible.
Sr. Melanie, Your reflection is so beautiful and I agree with your friend, Prescovia is your prayer and hopefully our prayer too. Allowing her a place in your heart has allowed the war to touch the hearts of so many people through your blog. May we all make special places in our hearts for all the “Precovias” in our world who are suffering at the hands of others. May we pray for the people of Ukraine, for their safety and peace.
Thank you Sr Melannie for this very touching and meaningful post.
The surname of the reporter is a strong reminder that we are never alone … our Guardian Angel is always with us 😇.
Richard Engel: An Angel Rich in the Lord/Law of Life.
May God bless and bring strength to Prescovia, and to all those suffering in Ukraine; and everywhere in the world.
May we too be blessed with the Art of Listening.
Thank you for this most moving blog. It brought tears to my eyes for the people in Ukrainian God bless and help them. God bless you to Melannie as you share these blogs with us.
Thank you for sharing this heart-touching news story.
Have a holy Holy Week.
What a beautiful and sad message this morning, so appropriate during the early days of Holy Week. My heart goes out to Precovia and all the people impacted by this tragedy. Thank goodness for the Richard Engels of the world who try to make a difference.
Your comments usually mean the most to me when they focus on current events. It’s helpful to know others are struggling to understand through a Christian lens.
Sr Melanie, thank you for this very moving post. It is far too easy for me to rest in my comfortable home and pray for peace. Thank you for giving me Prescovia to bring this prayer to life. You have helped me bring Holy Week into a clearer reality.
You have a way with thoughts and words; they just come to life.
We are blessed.
Thank you, Sister Melanie,
Your choice of music videos were spot on. Both brought tears to my eyes.
Blessed Easter to all for He has Risen for us.
From the depths of my heart I thank you for this Sunflower Seeds post. It is powerful, timely, and deep. Thank you for honoring the Ukraine and all the goodness in those sacrificing their own comfort and safety to offer comfort and service to them. Holy Week has been enriched by your writing..thank you.
Sr.Melanie, your blog today resonated with me in many ways. I’m haunted by the images of an 83 year old woman who was raped while she was caring for her bedridden, elderly husband… inconprihensible brutality. Also the images of so many children separated from their families and seeing Ukrainian people hiding in basements without food and water leaves me feeling useless. All I can do is donate to the charities which are helping and, of course, pray for peace for their country.
Thank you for allowing me to express my frustration and sadness for these people who are inspiring in their love for their country.
May our dear Lord bring peace to the Ukraine as they continue to suffer during Holy Week.
You have a way with thoughts and words; they just come to life.
We are blessed.
I simply adore you. I posted the song for Ukraine on The Port web site. It is just what we need so we can join our collective energy to stop this atrocity.
Thank you my friend,
Mary Lou Nugent (Portiuncula Center for Prayer)
I too saw that NBC segment and was touched by the compassion of Richard Engel. My prayers are with the people of Ukraine.
Dear Melannie, thank you for sharing how that news clip of Prescovia not only was seen by you but entered into your very being with tenderness and compassion . The words you choose to share this with your readers were profound and gut wrenching. I did not see the news segment but through your words and loving heart, felt the scene imprinted on my being. God bless and hold you with deep love.
Dear Sister Melanie:
Thank you for the beautiful powerful Sunflower to start Holy Week Will continue to add all the Pescovia’s and Richard Engel’s to our prayers for peace! Love and prayers, Nancy.
Here’s a link to Richard Engel’s photo:
Thank you, Sister. Have a blessed Holy Week and thank you for sharing your post.
Dear Sr. Melanie, What a beautiful and touching reflection. It captured the heart wrenching toil this war has had on the people of Ukraine. I read your blog every week and this is my first time responding. A prayerful way to start Holy Week. Thank you so much for these weekly reflections.
Your blog, your heart-felt emotion, the videos…Holy week has never seemed more real. You are a friend to us all. Thank you. God bless you.
Sister Melanie, thank you for this beautiful blog post. I too have been praying for the people of Ukraine. I have been praying for the women, and a particular woman who lost her husband to this horrible needless war. The woman touched my heart when she cried, and told the reporter that she recognized her husband by his shoes. I don’t know who the wife is who lost her husband, but she has a special place in my heart and prayers.
Dear Sr. Melannie, Thank you for bringing to light, especially during this Passion week, the suffering of the people of Ukraine. Prescovia is 88 yrs., and lived thru the horrors of WWII and now “I can’t do this again! I can’t.”
I was born in Ukraine (1943) while WWII was raging in Ukraine and my parents fled the brutality of Russian communism with me at 3 months old. Thank God we survived and landed in the United States as refugees. It’s heartbreaking that history repeats itself, that the battle between good and evil continues, that the innocent continue to be crucified. Thank God for Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Light! May there be a Resurrection for the Ukrainian nation!
Sr. Melannie, thank you for your gift of compassion and helping us recognize the Crucified Jesus in the unbearable suffering of this precious old woman, Prescovia. She is a Jesus figure.
Ohhhh, the heartache of it all! I don’t think i can wrap my head around just what they are all going through. I wish we could do more, but I don’t know what?! It frightens me to think how much longer this brutality will go on. Ive always liked Richard Engel’s segments. He was in the right spot at the right time for her.
Thank you Sister sooo much for sharing your story.
They are all wonderful.
Thank you very much. We will pray for Prascovia! Thanks, too, for the song.
Sr. Melannie, I remember this news cast, it brought me to tears . . .
I am finishing up a book study tomorrow at my parish and will be sharing your thoughts with this wonderful group of people. Many blessings to you this Easter and may the people of Ukraine find peace.
So touching. Thank you for sharing. This Triduum is different, I hope the world is waking up to the madness of war. Jesus remember us ……
Sr Melanie, Thank you for your words. They brought tears to my eyes. I saw this spot on tv and I hurt so much for this woman. I include the Ukrainians in my rosary every day. May God be with them and prayerfully end this war victoriously for them. Amen.
Sister Melanie, I found your blog while I was looking up the same NBC story today (July 4, 2022) to see if I could learn more about the Ukrainian woman. While searching for the spelling of her name, I your blog appeared (I was spelling it the same way). I was so touched by her in that story and, even in her despair, I thought her face was beautiful so I took a photo of it with my iphone. I come across it from time to time and think of her. I am going to try to paint her beautiful face; I’m not sure I can do it justice. But I wanted to let you know that in my search I learned that her name is Praskovya Ivanova and she lives in the village of Mala Rohan. I found a follow-up story, also by Richard Engle of NBC where he visits her back in her home and shares borscht she has made an homemade vodka. I just wanted to share the video with you since you were also very touched by her. His 2nd visit occurred in May. I am keeping her in my prayers along with all the people of Ukraine.
In case the website where the follow-up story was not included in my message, I’m leaving it here as well: