Chalice of Mercy was founded in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin by Ukrainian-born Valentyna Pavsyukova, along with American friends in 2007.
Valentyna had come to the United States from Zaporozhye, Ukraine in 2002, at the age of 18, after her name was picked in the U.S. Government Green Card Lottery. Her mother had entered her in the lottery the year before without telling her, hoping to provide her daughter with a rare opportunity. An ocean away from family and friends, with little knowledge of English, she entered a painful period in her young life. This was made even more difficult by the fact that Valentyna had had almost no exposure to religious faith growing up in post-Soviet Ukraine. The one exception was her grandmother, who had taught her the Our Father Prayer and urged her to pray it especially “when times are difficult and just in case God exists.” This simple prayer began to stir in her an awareness of God as a loving Father. The first seeds of hope were planted in her heart.
Two years later, she had now begun to read the Gospels, and they came alive for her. She was also fascinated by the little she encountered of Catholicism, mostly consisting of images – often in old movies – of rosary beads, altars and candles, priests in cassocks, and people kneeling in holy silence. When the opportunity came to accompany a Catholic coworker to Mass, she welcomed it, and at the moment of Consecration she knew with simple certainty that before her on the altar “whatever that priest was doing was the truth: that was the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!” With the support of a growing circle of Catholic friends, she was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2007.
On fire with her newfound faith, Valentyna wanted to give herself completely to God, but didn’t know how. She thought of joining the Peace Corp and serving the afflicted in Ethiopia. But suddenly it dawned on her that her mission territory was to be her homeland, Ukraine, where the people were hungry and thirsty for faith.
The Mission Takes Shape
As Valentyna deliberated about the precise nature of her mission, she consulted an uncle in Ukraine, telling him she wanted to spread the Word of God. He replied that she should do so with deeds more than with words.
This struck home, and two priorities began to emerge. The mission of Chalice of Mercy would have a medical focus, because so many hospitals and care facilities in Ukraine were run down and antiquated; and it would be dedicated to God the Father, so that he might be known and loved in her country.
On a visit to her family in Zaporozhye in 2007, just months after becoming Catholic, Valentyna rejoiced to discover that a Polish priest, Fr. Jan Sobilo, had been assigned to a small parish there, agreeing to leave his homeland to minister to a tiny flock. Even more thrilling was the fact that he had built a church dedicated to God the Merciful Father. As she explained to him what she envisioned for Chalice of Mercy, Fr. Jan resonated with it and became a spiritual father to her and to the mission. Fr. Jan Sobilo was later ordained as a Bishop in 2011.
Upon returning to the United States, Valentyna worked with a friends from Chippewa Falls, to formally establish Chalice of Mercy as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. They then contacted the Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach of Springfield, Illinois, who recover surplus medical equipment from hospitals and manufacturers and distribute it to developing nations. Partnering with the Sisters, they prepared to ship a 40-foot sea container of medical equipment in the fall of 2009. Valentyna knew how precious this equipment would be to the antiquated healthcare institutions that would receive it. But just as she was adding hospital birthing beds to the shipment, she realized they could be used not only as beds of new life, but also beds of death through abortion, which is rampant in Ukraine.
She understood in that moment that the mission of Chalice of Mercy must be clearly pro-life, promoting human dignity from conception to natural death. And so they included in the shipment hundreds of 12-week fetal models, along with pro-life videos and TV monitors to show the development of life in the womb.
Outreach to Doctors
Beginning in 2009, Chalice of Mercy began organizing pro-life medical conferences in Ukraine. Over the past several years, Chalice of Mercy has organized many such conferences, addressing the sanctity of human life, natural family planning, the beauty of the doctor’s vocation, and related topics at hospitals, medical universities, clinics and churches throughout Ukraine.
Chalice of Mercy has also touched the lives of over 1000 physicians, mostly OB/GYN’s, through doctors’ pilgrimages to Medjugorje, the town in Bosnia-Herzegovina (former Yugoslavia) where it is claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary began appearing to a group of six children in June of 1981, calling for conversion, prayer and fasting. A Vatican commission completed a comprehensive study of the visions and events associated with Medjugorje in January of 2014, turning over its findings to Pope Francis, who has not yet made any statements on the matter.
Since then, thanks to a few generous benefactors, there have been more than twenty such pilgrimages.
The weeklong pilgrimages have three main components: prayer, conferences and visits to charitable enterprises in Medjugorje. Most of the doctors who participate are Orthodox by baptism, but non-practicing. Very few are Catholic. In Medjugorje they learn to pray the rosary for the first time and attend outdoor evening programs that include Mass and Eucharistic adoration, surrounded by thousands of devout pilgrims from all over the world. They are not forced to take part, but almost invariably they do, joining the rest of the pilgrimage team, which includes a family psychologist, an OB/GYN, one or two priests, and often several sisters.
The conferences address the issues of abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research and the challenges facing marriage and the family today. They also introduce the doctors to Natural Family Planning. The doctors are much challenged by the truths they hear, because their training and practice have typically accustomed them to being on the wrong side of the life issues. But as the week unfolds, their faces and eyes reflect the softening of their hearts.
Over the past 50 years, Ukraine has been decimated by rampant abortion, and it is not easy for doctors who have been performing them to stop, because tragically they have come to depend on the income to supplement salaries of less than $150 a month. But the pilgrimages – along with follow-up contact and peer support – help give them the courage to take that step. When they begin to understand that to be a doctor is not just a profession, but a beautiful vocation in which they touch the living bodies of the children of God, they are inspired and gain a totally new perspective on life.
Mission revealing God as a Merciful Father
In 2012 Valentyna brought a group of medical students to Medjugorge for a retreat together with Gretchen Thibault and Fr. Andrew Popov. Providentially in the retreat house, they met Fr. Pablo Escrivá de Romaní who was doing a silent retreat. He was invited to give a little talk to the Ukrainian group, and from that moment, Fr. Pablo´s silent retreat changed radically: he couldn´t take out of his prayer this whole entire group. That same evening, Fr. Pablo joined the medical group and started working with Valentyna to help them know more and more about our Lady and about God.
That group would always be remembered by Fr. Pablo as a true blessing in his priesthood. Watching them pray for the first time in front of the Holy Sacrament, sharing with them about the dignity of life and praying the Rosary, made Fr. Pablo realize how much he had to re-learn again from the beginning how to pray in such a simple way. He realized that those open Ukrainian hearts where teaching him as a priest how to host God in his heart with a childlike simplicity.
As years passed by, Valentyna and Fr. Pablo met in Medjugorge various times, each one taking care of their own group. Without even planning it, in 2015 they had their groups in two different hotels that where almost wall to wall from each other, and they mixed both Spanish and Ukrainian groups together in a beautiful encounter that year.
As time passed by, Fr. Pablo promised Valentyna that if he ever had a time, he would visit Ukraine to see the whole Chalice of Mercy mission.
That time came in the last week of Lent and beginning of Easter of 2017, when he was invited through Valentyna by Bishop Jan to give a retreat in the Shrine of Merciful God the Father in Zaporozhye. Fr. Pablo never expected that there, he would have a call from the Father, asking to leave everything behind and follow Him in this mission.
After discernment, prayer and contrast, Fr. Pablo asked Cardinal of Madrid Carlos Osoro permission to go as a missionary to Ukraine, through a formal letter of petition from auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo. Cardinal Carlos Osoro gave his blessing to go on the missions and he was accepted by ordinary Bishop Stanislav Shirocorodyk in the diocese of Karkov- Zaporozhye.
Now Valentyna and Fr. Pablo work together with Bishop Jan Sobilo in this beautiful mission of making our Heavenly Father known, loved and honored, through Chalice of Mercy.