people with disabilities our friends.
We strives to promote
an inclusive society in which every person with special needs is valued and accepted.
that every person with a disability has his or her unique vocation and gift for the world.
is rooted in the words from the Gospel:
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen”
(1 Corinthians 1, 27-28).
that the biggest value of each person is not in their intellectual abilities but in their heart.
no person is on this earth by chance
The Emmaus Center has common roots with communities such as “Faith and Light” and L’Arche, which draw their inspiration from the life and works of their founder, the philosopher Jean Vanier.
In France, 1963, Jean Vanier, like Noah from the Old Testament, founded a community called L’Arche.
Noah was rescuing humanity from the flood; Jean Vanier was rescuing people with intellectual disabilities from an overly-competitive society and from the tyranny of normality wherein those who do not fit into “the standard” are deprived of the right for a normal life. Today, L’Arche communities are united by an international federation and operate in more than 40 countries around the world. In these communities people, who are intellectually limited reveal themselves to be gifted in the sphere of human relations.
The people who we most often exclude from society, those with intellectual disabilities, can teach us truly deep things. When we let them into our life, they enrich and complement our world. We are used to hearing that the weak need the strong. However, inner unity and healing become possible only when the strong realize their need for the weak. The weak awake the energy of tenderness and compassion, of kindness and communion.
Zenia Kushpeta, a Canadian of Ukrainian origin, brought the ideas of Jean Vanier into Ukraine.
In Canada, Zenia was a promising pianist. However, after meeting people with disabilities she left her career and dedicated herself fully to serving them.
We live in a world of different conditions: society demands from us one thing and very often our parents and relatives want something completely different. We need to obtain something all the time: education, career, prestige, wealth. When I was a child I was often told whom and what I have to be. When I grew up I realized that I don’t know who I am at all. I have understood very many things in the L’Arche community thanks to living with and being friends with intellectually disabled people.
Despite their intellectual limits these people have unique gifts in their hearts; they have a vocation given by God and an important mission in this world – to touch and transform hearts, to call us for unity. People with intellectual disabilities concentrate on human relations, trust and love. Through their simplicity, vulnerability and sincerity they often open us the most important values. This becomes possible only when we invite people with special needs into our life and society.
After the dissolution of the USSR, Zenia came to Ukraine with a dream to organize a L’Arche community. However, to create such a community in 1992 was too early. Families with disabled children were often ashamed to take them outside. Many of such people were living in charity schools, mental institutions and other places far away from ordinary people. Thus, Zenia helped to organize the first communities of “Faith and Light” in various Lviv parishes. These communities unite people with intellectual disabilities as well as their parents and friends.
The members of these communities meet together, share their difficulties and their happiness, celebrate and pray together, take part in summer camps, pilgrimages and spiritual retreats. “Faith and Light” communities are first and foremost communities of friendship and mutual support. Today, the “Faith and Light” movement has 36 communities in different towns and cities around Ukraine and is a member of the international “Faith and Light” federation.
Apart from “Faith and Light” meetings, special workshops have also been opened.
All in all, the understanding has come that it is vital to change Ukrainian society: to support families with disabled children, to spread the vision of Jean Vanier throughout Ukraine and to break stereotypes about attitudes towards people with disabilities.
With this goal in mind, in 2001 Zenia created the Emmaus Center at the Ukrainian Catholic University.
The “Faith and Light” workshops have also become one of the programs of the Center. In 2008, with the help of the Emmaus Center, the first L’Arche community was created on the basis of the workshops. The community has become a member of the international L’Arche Federation.
WHY ARE WE AT THE UCU?
The Ukrainian Catholic University is built on two “M”s. The martyrs of the underground Greek-Catholic Church who lost their lives but preserved their faith. They stayed truthful and authentic under the difficult circumstances of totalitarianism in the 20th century. This is the first “M”. The second “M” stands for the marginalized: people with intellectual disabilities.
At UCU we do not only care about the intellectual development of the students. That is why we have invited people with special needs to the center of our university, those whose place should not be here according to the common way of thinking. Back in the 90s when we were brainstorming the idea of the university we discovered that people with intellectual disabilities not only have special needs but also special gifts. They are open, without any masks, their presence breaks the systems which hinder communication.
For people with intellectual disabilities it is of no significance whether you are a rector or a bishop, what really matters is the questions “Can you accept me? Can you communicate with me? Can you love me?” We want these questions to constantly arise at our university. That is why people with special needs are at the very heart of our highly ambitious academic institution. For us they are professors of human relations.
The Emmaus Center is not just one of the departments at the UCU. It is the core of our mission – to help the modern post soviet and postmodern person recognize and radiate their dignity given by God.
At the end of the Gospel of Luke, we read the story of two of Jesus` disciples walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are filled with despair and confusion following the crucifixion of Jesus. On their journey they meet a “stranger” who joins them in their walk, reveals to them the meaning of Scripture and shares a meal with them. At the breaking of the bread, the hearts of the disciples burn, their eyes open and they recognize Jesus. They are filled with joy and their life takes on a new meaning.
In the same way, many families with children with special needs walk the road of life in despair and loneliness until they experience the love of their neighbor and the ever present healing love of God. When we offer each other a hand, a community of faith and friendship is created. When we share together the joys and challenges of life, our lives are filled with new meaning and hope is renewed in our hearts.
The Emmaus Center happened to be a calling for me. I came to Ukraine from France. In an unbelievable way, which could be called Providence, Zenia Kushpeta invited me to substitute her as the director of Emmaus.
Soon after my arrival to Lviv, Matias, my brother with intellectual disability, died. I understood that he also had led me to Emmaus so that I could continue his mission in Ukraine, so that here I could help his friends with disabilities to pursue their vocation – to transform our hearts.
Emmaus is not only the place where you work and do something useful. Here I share my knowledge with those who share their hearts with me.
I believe each person comes into this world in order to recognize and follow their vocation. I believe that through my work at Emmaus I pursue mine.
It is of great value to work at an organization whose values are the same as what I believe in. Thanks to this, everyday work becomes full of deep meaning.
Our friends for me are somewhat like X-ray machines that show what’s on your heart. I feel that Emmaus House is a place where I am loved and needed.
I work at Emmaus because this organization eradicates the prejudices against the disabled and creates a society where the dignity of each person is valued.
Emmaus is a chance for people with disabilities to find themselves despite the chaos of life. I share the light of Emmaus with our friends and at the same time I become inspired by their strength.
For me, Emmaus is a combination of friendship with people with special needs and everyday work. I am happy that here I can serve with my abilities.
I help people with disabilities to find their vocation. At the same time, their presence transforms our society, teaches us to accept weakness and to be open to one another.
At Emmaus we work not only for people with special needs, but with them as well. I am inspired by our team that strives to change and overcome all of the stereotypes and consequences of our soviet past.
I like the simple, free and warm atmosphere of Emmaus House. Here I learn how to understand myself and others better. Friends helped me open my heart to listening.
I believe that my acquaintance with friends is God’s providence. Everyone receives the message from the Gospel I received it through Emmaus and friends.
At Emmaus I have found not only colleagues but friends with whom I want to create something new, beautiful and happy, “to make the impossible possible”. I see that I receive more than I give.
For me, friendship with and service to disabled people is a chance to find a balance between my mind and heart, it is not just to think about high things but to implement them every day. To be present here and now.