GROSSE POINTE PARK, Mich. (WXYZ) — For the last week, a Grosse Pointe Park priest and a group of parishioners have been volunteering in Poland, helping refugees who are fleeing the war in Ukraine.
So far, more than 2.6 million refugees have crossed into Poland alone, with thousands more crossing each day.
“We have been busy," said Father Andrew Kowalczyk, the pastor of St. Clare of Montefalco Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Park. "We are tired.”
It’s been a nonstop mission for Andrew and his parishioners. Just a week ago, the group of 18 people left Detroit headed for Poland to help refugees crossing the border.
“We have cleaned the floors, disinfected beds, we have transported people, we have cried with people, we have danced with children, we have had a meal with them,” Andrew said of the trip. “We are really touched by what we have seen."
The group was asked not to take pictures of refugees, but they did take pictures of their journey, working 12-hour days assisting a refugee center. They've also been shuttling families to temporary housing and buying them much needed supplies and clothes.
"It has been very humbling for all of us,” volunteer John Schrage said. “Literally, these women and children come in with nothing but the clothes on their back."
Most of the group only speaks English, but Schrage says so far, that hasn’t been an issue.
“Father has always said that compassion is a world communicator, and just a simple smile and a hug communicates," Schrage said. "It’s very powerful.”
The refugee center where they’re working is in Przemysl, a city where thousands are crossing into each day. These families stay temporarily before traveling to their final destination.
“There's a lot of people," volunteer Scott Lowell said. "The train station we just walked down to this evening was full. People wandering around the train station just dazed.”
Lowell and others in the group have used Google Translate to talk with the refugees, many of which are women and children. They've shared how they witnessed firsthand their homeland being bombed.
“It wasn't uncommon to see a woman sitting on a bench just crying," Lowell said. "It’s hard to comfort that, but you try.”
These volunteers say the impact from this 10-day trip will last a lifetime. Despite encountering so much sadness and despair, they also witnessed even more good shown by volunteers from across the world.
It's a journey that has been both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
“What we have experienced here is, believe in the good heart." Andrew said. "Through our good heart, we saw the smile.”