Healthy Masculinity Across Borders (and a way to help Ukrainian refugees)

Just as many parts of the world gained cautious optimism that we might be turning the corner on COVID-19, the war in Ukraine erupted, destroying lives and property, and forcing over a million Ukrainians to flee for their lives.  Collectively, we’ve begun to realize that it is not only Ukraine that was attacked, but also our fragile emerging experience of peace among the world’s great powers.

Many of the men of Illuman, our families, partners, and communities are asking: Why? What is ours to do in response?  We experience fear, outrage, anger, compassion—all at once.

As Father Richard Rohr prepared to make a contribution to men’s work in the late 1980s, he dedicated considerable time to learning how different cultures around the world had developed and practiced male rites of passage. He launched his men’s work, originally named M.A.L.Es (Men As Learners and Elders) as an international initiative touching the lives of men in Europe, the United States, and Australia. 

Thanks to this foundation laid by Fr. Rohr, Illuman itself was born as a group with international participation, and our earliest convenings were blessed with men participating from multiple countries.

With the conviction and experience that building healthy masculinity is best served through deep and committed international relationships, Illuman, along with brother organizations in Europe and Australia, formed a committed international Council of Elders. This international community of men has met every month since November of 2019. Our purpose is to walk together, share experiences and learning, and express support and care for each other. This fellowship sustains our work for the deep shift in masculinity that our world desperately needs.

Let me provide one tangible example of this group’s critical contribution.  In our most recent meeting in late February, I shared the desire of many Illuman men to respond, somehow, to the invasion of Ukraine. I asked our international brothers how we might help. In response, brothers from Europe shared their experience of twenty years of occupation by the Soviet Union. They recounted personal experiences of considering military action by NATO in 1968—though that was ultimately stepped back. We learned that brothers in both Latvia and Czech Republic are, even now, taking in and caring for Ukrainian refugees.  

In short, our international brothers have lived the direct consequences of war and invasion in ways that we in the United States have not. They counseled, wisely, on actions we might take. They pointed out that the war in Ukraine rests on many precedents; there is history involved which has to be understood and embraced to arrive at a lasting peace.  While we take time to enter more deeply into that essential step, they would be immensely grateful for our assistance in caring for the Ukrainians arriving in their lands. 

If you’d like to help, follow this donation link where you can give directly to our European Illuman brothers who are currently feeding, housing, and providing medical and mental health care for over forty Ukrainian refugees—mostly women and children—at their retreat center in Czechia. 100% of your gift will go directly to supporting these refugees.

I’m grateful that we have established strong, committed, loving relationships with men around the world, walking together truly as men as learners and elders. These connections guide us toward healthy, constructive, and life-protecting responses to immediate and global challenges.  

Steve Hicken
Board Chair, Illuman

Refugees from Ukraine finding safety and support at a retreat center run by Illuman partners in Prague.