A year of philanthropy in a pandemic: Interview with the volunteer coordinator at National Cathedral’s Chapel

Basilica News Agency Aurelian Iftimiu – 2/4/21

The volunteers of the Chapel of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral have been organizing various activities for years to help others.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Romania, they were mobilized and helped those suffering.

Dănuţ-Viorel Prună, the volunteer coordinator, told Basilica.ro how the volunteers managed to achieve their goals and come to their neighbours’ aid.

Basilica.ro: Who is Dănuţ Prună? What do you do, and how did you become a volunteer?

Dănuţ Prună: I am an ordinary man who comes from a large family. We are five brothers who had a beautiful childhood, spent mostly with our grandparents. And I, in turn, have a large family. I have five children, and I give glory to God for everything He has given me in this life. From a professional perspective, I am an officer in the Air Force Staff at the Ministry of National Defense.

Meeting with Archim. Ciprian Grădinaru

At one point, I went through a difficult life trial. This made me ask for the help of the Church. A good friend told me that a church is being consecrated and, if I want, to go because one can enter the Holy Altar.

After venerating the holy relics of St. John Chrysostom at the National Cathedral’s Chapel and entering the Holy Altar, I walked to the bus station, heading home. While waiting for the bus, a lady I didn’t know asked me if I had talked to Father Ciprian Gradinaru.

I went back to Church to speak to Father Ciprian. I met him then, he became my spiritual father, and from that moment, my life changed.

From a person who needed help, I became a person who helps people. This is how ten years have passed since I have nourished my soul by helping people in difficulty. All this time, I felt that as I helped people, I, in turn, received more gifts from God.

Basilica.ro: It has been a year since the pandemic broke out in Romania. How did you feel in those moments, and how did you think you could help?

Dănuţ Prună: It was not very difficult to mobilize when the pandemic broke out because, at the National Cathedral’s Chapel, a community of people dedicated to helping each other was formed, pastored by Achim. Ciprian Gradinaru.

However, it was a very difficult year due to the authorities’ restrictions and because not much was known about this virus. I can’t say we weren’t afraid. We had families at home, and we exposed them to this risk. In the end, we still got this virus, but with God’s help, we all overcame it well.

All I can tell you is that nothing wrong can happen to you when you have God in your soul. I have always felt God’s help throughout this time.

When the pandemic started, we had to stop all the campaigns that were going on to reschedule all the activities. We mobilized to collect donations and help those most affected by the pandemic. We focused on that part of the most affected population, namely the sick, the elderly, and families with many children.

We’ve launched a few campaigns:

  • “Get involved! Together we succeed more!” was initiated in February 2020 to support vulnerable people in urban and rural areas during the national state of emergency and alert, declared in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. The beneficiaries, older people without help, immobilized patients and families with many children, received food, hygiene products, clothing, footwear, appliances, protective masks and prayer books worth 450,000 RON. The campaign continues!
  • “Help for students”: computers, laptops and tablets were offered to students with limited possibilities to facilitate their online courses’ participation.
  • “Support for hospitals”: The volunteers provided logistical support, taking over and distributing hygiene and food products, donated by supermarket chains and restaurants at Matei Balș, Marius Nasta, Victor Babeș, Elias, Bucharest Emergency Hospital, Bucharest Oncology Institute, Fundeni Clinical Institute and Urlați City Hospital received medical equipment from the volunteers.
  • Within the partnership between the Philanthropic and Missionary Social Sector of the Archdiocese of Bucharest and the Inspectorate for Emergency Situations (ISU) Bucharest – Ilfov, volunteers distributed hot food and prayer books in Sectors 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 (people in sector five being supported by ISU volunteers). The beneficiaries were the persons from Bucharest in social, medical, voluntary or recommended isolation at home, in the context of the coronavirus epidemic.
  • During the national state of emergency, to protect people unable to travel, volunteers, with the support of the Social Philanthropic Sector of the Romanian Patriarchate, in partnership with the General City Hall of Bucharest, received centralized shopping lists, purchased products and delivered them home for older people, people with disabilities or social cases, who needed support during this period. The volunteers identified among the beneficiaries the people who cannot pay for these purchases, coming to meet them with financial support.
  • During the state of national emergency, the volunteers provided support in organizing activities at shelters for the homeless. They provided sanitation support, food and tea. Volunteers were also involved in socializing with the beneficiaries of these shelters.
  • Between April 19 and April 20, 2020, the volunteers of the National Cathedral’s Chapel were also involved in the actions of offering the Holy Fire, the Easter blessed bread, prayer books in times of illness and trouble, the Easter 2020 Pastoral Letter and Easter cards from His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel.

Basilica.ro: In what circumstances did you find the people in the localities you visited, especially during the pandemic?

Danut Pruna: People were scared. They did not know anything about this virus, they did not know what would happen next, what awaited, and the hardest thing for them was the separation from the Church.

For many, the Church and meeting God also represent meeting and communicating with other fellow villagers. Priests from all the communities we visited were the only ones who knew the situation of vulnerable people, who provided them with the necessary medicines or daily food.

I was delighted to notice that the Church has a very well developed infrastructure. This matters a lot in the event of any unforeseen situation.

Basilica.ro: Which situation was more difficult during this pandemic? Tell us some cases that impressed you.

Dănuţ Prună: In one of the localities, I met an older woman who, although she had 16 children, had been brought and forgotten by them in a locality where she did not know anyone. Another older woman only helped this woman.

Another situation that impressed me a lot is related to a locality in Constanţa. To get there, we walked for miles on a dirt road in the field. Once there, I saw a lonely image—a village with many abandoned houses, where only a few dozen families lived. I asked a local if they had a doctor’s office, and I was told they didn’t even have a store. He was the only one in the village who had a car. In the morning, he went to every house, made a list of what to buy and drove tens of kilometres to the first supermarket.

Another thing that impressed me a lot is how the children of a rural school learned when schools were closed. They had no signal on the phone, no internet, no online education. The teacher brought the homework to the village store, from there they were taken by the children, the children did their homework, and brought them back to the store.

Basilica.ro: Give us some of the results of the projects carried out in the pandemic.

Dănuţ Prună: Since February last year, more than 5,000 families have been supported through the campaign titled “Get Involved! Together we succeed more!” In the 227 social-philanthropic actions carried out in 187 localities, the National Cathedral’s Chapel volunteers offered material aids worth approximately 450,000 RON.

Basilica.ro: What would you urge those interested in volunteering? Who do you recommend volunteering to?

Dănuţ Prună: It is essential that all those who help are consistent and to have continuity. People in difficulty need constant, ongoing support. We don’t have to wait for a particular holiday or a specific time of year to help them.

On the other hand, volunteering helps anyone of any age, from children to the elderly. It is educational and also influences the well-being of man. I confess that I have been several times with my 4-year-old son in volunteer campaigns, and he is eager to continue. He liked it very much.

And my 66-year-old father sometimes accompanies me and is happy because he feels useful and returns home happy and joyful in the evening.

Photography courtesy of the National Cathedral’s Chapel volunteers

This interview was originally published in Romanian.