Food, drinks, and candy were placed at each guest's seat, and volunteers were on hand to serve. | Photo by Shu-wei Chen | Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/24

As December 2023 drew to a close,  Christmas festivities were held everywhere. On December 15, Tzu Chi volunteers in Lublin, with assistance from volunteers in Germany, Austria, and Taiwanese students in Poland, distributed supermarket gift cards to 270 elderly Ukrainian refugees. Then, on the 24th, they participated in a special Christmas Eve Mass and banquet for 700 disadvantaged Polish people.

Cross-Border Support: Love for Lublin

Since Tzu Chi is yet to register as an INGO in Poland, Tzu Chi collaborated with its long-standing partner Caritas to distribute Biedronka supermarket gift cards to help Ukraine refugees and underprivileged Polish residents.

The distribution on December 15 was held with the guidance of experienced international distribution volunteers Shu-wei Chen, Wan-chen Tsai, and Yueh-ying Liu, with the assistance of Opole volunteer Hui Ju Chen-Atlas and young volunteers Zhi-xiao Yen and Wan-xuan Jiang. It was very warm and lively.  

This young girl bravely took to the stage to sing the traditional Ukrainian festive song "Three Holidays." | Photo by Serhii Yerzov | Caritas Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/15

The distribution began with heartwarming Christmas carols, led by a brave young girl who voluntarily sang the traditional Ukrainian festive song "Three Holidays", accompanied by her grandmother. Everyone joined in singing the familiar melody, creating a harmonious atmosphere full of support and unity. But this moment of nostalgia also reminded the Ukrainian refugees of their distant home; many could not hold back their tears.

In a spirit of solidarity, Chen Shu-wei suggested that everyone sing "Jingle Bells" together. This was met with enthusiastic support from volunteers and elders from the various communities. Although not everyone remembered the lyrics, the lively tune lifted the spirits of all those present. The volunteers expressed their heartfelt gratitude for everyone's participation; they stressed the importance of unity and cooperation in times of adversity.

The seniors brought handmade marshmallows in the shape of flowers and mushrooms, warming the hearts of the volunteers. | Photo by Serhii Yerzov | Caritas Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/15

After the distribution, the seniors approached the tables at the front of the stage and put their donations into the bamboo coin banks. Following the principle of "sharing happiness with others is better than having it alone," one senior brought apples from her workplace for volunteers to enjoy a nutritious treat. Another box contained handmade marshmallows in the shape of flowers and mushrooms; this warmed the hearts of the volunteers. The volunteers praised the elders for their thoughtfulness and creativity, saying that "there is nothing better than these gifts."

Ukrainian seniors receiving assistance responded to the spirit of the "Bamboo Bank Era," donating to help others. | Photo by Shu-wei Chen | Caritas Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/15

Local volunteer Anastasiia observed that, when everyone collectively worked towards providing care and communication, the support offered not only enhanced the trust and confidence of the recipients but also showed in their actions. They were more willing to contribute to the event, and to express gratitude continuously.

"Beyond love and food, the world is redeemed through support and empathy. Seeing our beneficiaries actively embody these virtues is truly uplifting," noted Anastasiia. She joyfully witnessed the deepening connection between the elderly and the Tzu Chi, inspiring even recipients to take action to benefit those in need.

Master woodworker Miroslav Mocherad (center) expressed gratitude by giving an intricately crafted small wooden house to the volunteers. | Photo by Shu-wei Chen | Caritas Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/15

The volunteers also received a special gift -- a handcrafted wooden house made by Miroslav Mocherad, a master carpenter who loves working with children. The miniature house depicted the newborn Jesus; it symbolized the profound meaning in Christianity and represented the essence of Christmas.

As a retired person and former refugee, Mr. Mocherad deeply understands the struggles and difficulties faced by disadvantaged groups. His creation not only showcased his artistic skills but also reflected profound sympathy for those who have encountered challenges similar to his own.

Love Illuminates Lublin

For a year and eight months, the joint efforts of Tzu Chi and Caritas Lublin have yielded fruitful results. | Photo by Shu-wei Chen | Caritas Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/22

During the past year and eight months, Tzu Chi and Caritas Lublin have worked closely together to achieve remarkable results. On December 22, the two teams came together again to prepare an important annual event. It gathered over a thousand attendees at the modern and vibrant Lublin Exhibition Center.

"No one should feel lonely during Christmas." For the past seven years, the Caritas Archdiocese of Lublin has meticulously organized "Caritas Christmas Eve" or "Eve of Mercy". Through this gathering, people who are lonely, ill, homeless, or unfortunate are brought together to share the joy of Jesus' birth through communion and singing hymns and celebrate Christmas Eve together.

The volunteers were honored to learn about this precious annual tradition and joined the service team. The two teams worked together to decorate the dining tables and prepare the venue, wholeheartedly completing the task with the utmost dedication. They focused on making sure the tables and gifts were properly arranged and forgot about their fatigue from the hours of preparation. There was a deep sense of mission and shared anticipation for the special moment that was about to unfold.

On Christmas Eve, the volunteers finally put on their Santa hats and prepared to welcome the guests. Polite, thoughtful and welcoming everyone, the volunteers wanted to make sure all the guests felt comfortable, important, and respected.

Among the volunteers, the children of Polish Tzu Chi volunteer Agata Dudekiewicz, Mikołaj and Zuzanna, stole the show. They were full of infectious laughter, endless energy, and sincere curiosity. They were also eager to help -- it was truly inspiring.

Bishop Stanisław Budzik of Poland sincerely shook hands with volunteers Shu-wei Chen (right) and Yueh Ying Liu (left). | Photo by Serhii Yerzov | Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/24

Bishop Stanisław Budzik, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Lublin, warmly shook hands with Shu-wei Chen and Yueh Ying Liu, to express his gratitude for their collaboration and assistance to disadvantaged groups. After the event, Anastasiia thanked the student volunteers for their care towards Ukrainian refugees and those in need on behalf of Tzu Chi. With sincere gratitude, she handed them red packets of blessings, eco-friendly pens and biscuits.

Representing Tzu Chi, Anastasiia (left) extended blessings to student volunteers, presenting them with red packets of blessings, eco-friendly pens, and biscuits. She was grateful for their care of Ukrainian refugees and those in need. | Photo by Shu-wei Chen | Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/24

Witness Hardship, Embrace Compassion

Yan Zhi-xiao, a student in Munich, was deeply moved after witnessing the plight of refugees firsthand. A former member of the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association (Tzu Ching) at National Taiwan University, he had not participated in volunteer work while studying in Germany due to language barriers. However, the experience of comforting Ukrainian refugees, orphans, and disadvantaged people in Poland made him feel the energy and meaning of life again.

Father Łukasz Mudrak, the director of Caritas Lublin, and the chief editor of Lublin's main television channel took a special group photo with the volunteers. (3rd from the right, Zhi-xiao Yen, a young volunteer from Munich). | Photo by Serhii Yerzov | Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/24

Yen said: “The Tzu Chi aunties also faced language barriers, they could only greet with sincere smiles, bow respectfully, and hand gift cards to those in need. Yet, seeing how deeply touched recipients were, it was evident that language posed no barrier." He was delighted to have the opportunity to join European Tzu Chi volunteers on this trip to Lublin. Despite language differences, his sincere smiles and respectful bows effectively conveyed his intent to help. Balancing academics, internships, and volunteer work efficiently, he even assisted in transporting volunteers between Germany and Poland.

Another volunteer, Wan Xuan Jiang, is currently working in Munich after finishing her master's degree in the Netherlands. Having received help from Shu-wei Chen to resolve her accommodation issues, she was inspired to give back to society. Through the volunteer experience this time, Jiang has gained a new understanding of religion. She said: "I witnessed the magical power of religious rituals and saw how it can comfort and soothe people's hearts."

On December 24, Tzu Chi volunteers from Germany, Austria, and Poland joined hands with Caritas Lublin to organize a Christmas Eve Mass and Banquet for over a thousand people. They also distributed seven hundred Biedronka supermarket gift cards to Polish people in need. | Photo by Shu-wei Chen | Lublin, Poland | 2023/12/24

Volunteers have been spreading love and kindness to those in need throughout 2023. In the new year, they aim to actively care for society's most disadvantaged groups and accompany them on the journey towards a peaceful and happy life. Tzu Chi volunteers in Europe eagerly anticipate the participation of more Polish volunteers and young Taiwanese volunteers in the collective effort of giving.

Story by Anastasiia, Xiu-lien Chu, Shu-wei Chen | 2024/01/14| EUROPE