USF President Father Zimmer gains insight during Poland trip

May 24, 2022

USF President Rev. Dr. Eric Albert Zimmer puts his handprint on a wall in Płock, Poland to show support for the Ukrainian people.

A photo exhibit illustrating the destruction caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine struck an emotional chord with University of Saint Francis President Rev. Dr. Eric Albert Zimmer on his recent visit to Fort Wayne’s sister city of Płock, Poland.

“The exhibit, ‘The Sky over Zhytomyr,’ showed pictures of Zhytomyr, Ukraine, before the war and after it had been bombed,” Fr. Zimmer said. “One picture showed a part of the town where a maternity ward had been destroyed and other buildings had been destroyed. It was extremely sobering.”

Fr. Zimmer traveled to Poland as part of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry’s delegation, which also included Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer and City of Fort Wayne Head of Digital Engagement John Felts. The group spent May 12 through May 15 in Płock, joining delegations from Zhytomyr, Darmstadt, Germany and Beltsy, Moldova.

Mayor Henry, a USF alumnus, invited Fr. Zimmer to be part of the delegation several months ago.

“I wanted to support the city in this, and I wanted to represent the University in what is traditionally a very Catholic country,” Fr. Zimmer said. “I had never been to Poland and that was an attraction to me, in addition to being able to support Ukraine.”

The group visited several sites, including a center for supply distribution to help Ukrainian refugees. At the center, each member of the delegations put a handprint, using paint, on a wall to mark their support.

Early in the trip, the group participated in a discussion session about the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine. During the discussion, the deputy mayor of Zhytomyr and news reporters shared their experiences of the war’s impact.

“We were the only ones from outside Europe,” Fr. Zimmer said. “It was good to meet people from different countries and to get their perspectives.”

Fr. Zimmer said the European delegates felt their countries’ initial responses to helping Ukraine were not as robust as they needed to be. However, those responses continue to change, and countries are extending more help to the Ukrainian people in many ways. While Fr. Zimmer did not get a chance to speak directly with Ukrainian refugees, he said he was able to learn additional specifics about their plight from those who have worked closely with them.

The delegates attended a cultural festival on their last day of the trip.

“It was a great trip, and I am grateful to have been a part of the mayor’s delegation in supporting the Ukrainians, along with our sister city,” Fr. Zimmer said.