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The Franciscan Mission in Transcarpathia

After World War II the Soviet regime prevented people in Transcarpathia from keeping in contact with friends and relatives abroad. It also limited people's social and religious activities, and banned all kinds of civil organisations. The dictatorship seriously effected Hungarian Catholics.

The Parish Hall in Nagyszőlős
in the first decade of the 20th century

At the first sign of political détente, Franciscan Brothers from Hungary received permission in 1989 to move to Transcarpathia and take part in the reconstruction of the Catholic Church. Three Franciscan priests from Hungary moved to Nagyszőlős, living there in a detached house. Their duty was to live up to their vows helping to alleviate the hard life of people in the area. According to eyewitnesses, when the local people of Transcarpathia saw the Franciscan Brothers in their religious clothes for the first time after the communist regime was gone, they cried. Gradually the churches were opened up again. Slowly the fear in people's hearts was resolved and they revived the old religious rituals. In a short time, the citizens of Ukraine were allowed to travel abroad to Hungary and were able to establish contacts with their relatives and acquaintances.

The members of the Franciscan
Missionin Nagyszőlős in the
beginning of 1990s (fr. Tihamér Papp,
fr. Dávid Radics, fr. Antal Majnek)

At first it seemed that doing the huge religious duties would be sufficient. This meant renewing the spiritual leadership of Hungarian people and their churches in 16 settlements within a 100-km (63 miles) territory. The churches and parish houses which were returned by the government needed reconstruction, as they were in very poor condition due to careless handling. These churches and buildings used to be gymnasiums, communist museums or warehouses. The Franciscans started to teach religion to children which also meant improving their Hungarian mother tongue.

The founder Jean Vanier
visited the Faith and Light
Communities of Ukraine

Soon they realised that their religious work was just not enough. Day by day they saw - and still see - human tragedies, illness, physical and mental poverty, loneliness. It was also clear that the Franciscan Brothers had to take part in the preservation and handing down of cultural values. Gradually they began to work in these fields also. During the past 16 years they have established numerous Catholic kindergartens, free soup kitchens, charity groups and institutions that help the needy with regular aid. At Easter and Christmas, hundreds of poor senior citizens and families receive food parcels and financial aid in order to purchase heating materials.

Afternoon learning
in the Children's Home in Huszt

Today, along with these religious duties, the Franciscans regularly help families with the expenses of schooling by purchasing school equipment. They helped establish 5 nursery schools in the region providing children with a Christian education and good circumstances. The food given in the nursery school is often the only food available to many of the children.

There is a special day care centre in Nagyszőlős where disabled children are taught and trained. In Huszt a similar institution is presently being built. In two settlements the Franciscans established community houses for Gypsies. Here children are taught and fed. In Huszt a family type children's home was opened two years ago.

One of the warehouses of the Social
Charitable Centre in Nagyszőlős

Daily in several settlements hundreds of portions of hot lunch are given to the elderly, children and homeless. For these people this is the only possibility to eat a hot meal. Besides this help the Franciscans give food parcels to about 1500 families at Christmas and Easter. In this region many, especially elderly, people have to face the winter cold. To help them the Franciscans distribute a considerable amount of heating material which suffices for the better part of the cold season. During the past few years the Caritas organisations working in the area received many tons of relief convoys from abroad that contained clothing, food, school equipment, furniture, therapeutic aid, books and other useful donations. These were distributed among people and institutions.

The visit of Dalma Mádl,
the wife of the President of Hungary
at the Franciscan Monastery in Nagyszőlős

Today there are four Franciscan brothers at the monastery in Nagyszőlős. They set off from here daily to carry out their job. They often drive 100 kms a day on very bad roads. The Franciscans still live in the house which the first missionaries inhabited in 1989.

In 1997 the Franciscan Mission got an award from the Hungarian State "For the Minority" and in 2001 its name was recorded in the Golden Book of the Hungarian Heritage. Recently, the Franciscans regained ownership from the government of the old monastery which is many hundred years old and in a very bad shape. The building is currently under reconstruction. Only the chapel was renovated and blessed in November 2006. The new function of the monastery will be to serve the Catholics of the area by giving them a place for spiritual and cultural programs.





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