Priest Staying in Ukraine with His Parishioners: ‘God Gives Me the Strength’

The Assumption of the Virgin parish functions as a distribution center for humanitarian aid because many people, including non-believers, come there every day to ask for material and financial help.

Father Pedro Zafra says Mass in Kyiv.
Father Pedro Zafra says Mass in Kyiv. (photo: Courtesy photo / Facebook Assumption of the Virgin parish)

KYIV, Ukraine — Father Pedro Zafra is a 31-year-old priest from Córdoba, Spain, who arrived in Kyiv in 2011 for priestly formation. He was ordained last June and is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way. The priest serves the parish of the Assumption of the Virgin in the Ukrainian capital.

Despite the outbreak of war, the priest decided to stay with his parishioners and not leave the country. “It was an inner battle,” he said, adding that he found the answer in prayer with a passage from the Gospel which “spoke of the mission and the support of God's grace to carry it forward,” and that’s why he decided to stay.

Until Feb. 24, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, life in the parish was like that in any other. But since the start of the war, the parish has become a reception center, where more than 20 parishioners are sheltered in the basement because their houses weren’t safe enough.

“We have several elderly people in wheelchairs, families with their small and adolescent children, and some young missionaries,” Father Zafra told the Spanish daily ABC, and stressed that living through this situation in community “helps us a lot to cope with it.”

"I’m not a hero. I couldn't handle this situation by myself. It’s God who gives me strength through prayer and the sacraments,” he said.

"There are times when I become a little anxious in the meaninglessness of not understanding the human reason for what is happening, but now I have found much more meaning in prayer and the sacraments, which give me the grace not to flee and persevere with those who are suffering,” the priest explained.

Father Zafra said this improvised community gets up at 7:30 am, prays together, has breakfast, and then spends the morning doing different tasks. In his case he usually visits the sick and elderly who can’t leave their homes, to bring them Communion and anything they may need.

In addition, according to ABC, the Assumption of the Virgin parish functions as a distribution center for humanitarian aid because many people, including non-believers, come there every day to ask for material and financial help.

The vast majority of basic services such as gas stations, supermarkets, and pharmacies remain open and Father Zafra says that they go about normally, although on occasion they have heard explosions in the distance.

The parish also continues its activities with relative normality, although they have rescheduled Mass earlier so the faithful can return to their homes before curfew, and at times with the risk of bombing they moved the celebration to the basement. In recent weeks, they have celebrated two First Communions and three weddings.

The priest also noted that this last month the number of people who attend Mass has increased. “People come looking for an answer to suffering. Before they had their job, their life project and now all that has disappeared, they no longer have any security and they are looking for an answer from God,” the priest told ABC.

Father Zafra stressed the great suffering of the Ukrainian people: “There is a lot of tension, concern for security, for life itself. The uncertainty created by not knowing what’s going to happen, living from day to day. We don‘t know if we’re going to be alive tomorrow or not."

An apartment building stands damaged after a Russian attack in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Ukrainian Struggles in Wartime, and IVF and Catholic Teaching (March 2)

An Alabama Supreme Court decision that established the personhood of frozen human embryos has set off a national debate over in vitro fertilization. The Catholic Church has long condemned IVF process but has embraced other medical technologies for fertility. Bishop Earl Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio, sheds light on Catholic teaching on in vitro fertilization Then EWTN News reporter Colm Flynn gives insights on the Ukrainian people’s struggles through war after his recent trip to Ukraine.