Praying for Peace in Ukraine
A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Russia’s invasion is a stark reminder of the horrors of war but also the need for firm resolve in resisting aggression while prayerfully calling for an authentic peace.
As I write this, Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine continues, with Russian President Vladimir Putin waging the largest land war in Continental Europe since 1945 and the end of World War II.
All of us have seen the terrible images of destruction since the ruthless invasion began on Feb. 24, including the bombing and shelling of population centers in Kharkiv and Kyiv. It is a stark reminder of the horrors of war but also the need for firm resolve in resisting aggression while prayerfully calling for an authentic peace.
Like so many popes before him in the face of war, Pope Francis has called for an end to the conflict. “In these days, we have been shocked by something tragic: war. Several times we have prayed that this road would not be taken. And we do not stop speaking; indeed, we beg God more intensely,” he said after reciting the Angelus on Feb. 27.
Two days before, he took the dramatic step of visiting the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to express his concerns personally. Since the invasion began, other Church leaders across the globe have added their voices to condemn the invasion and to call for a peaceful resolution.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed the Holy Father’s call for prayer and fasting. “In times of trouble, we call on the tender mercy of God … to guide our feet to the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79). May our prayers, joined with those of people around the world, help guide those waging war to end the meaningless suffering and restore peace.”
In Ukraine itself, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, spoke out on Feb. 28, pleading, “May dialogue and diplomacy conquer war.” But he also noted the immensity of the suffering. “We saw the beastliness and cruelty of those who are killing us,” he stated, “those who are putting children and women on tanks and are using them as human shields in order to bring death and devastation to the heart of Ukraine.”
For the Ukrainian people, the Russian invasion is a struggle for the survival of their very country, but it is only the next act of aggression by a neighbor that had already seized Crimea in 2014 and has a long and bloody history of oppression in the region.
That history includes the ruthless treatment of the Ukrainians under the atheist Soviet regime, marked especially by the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s and the savage persecution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, along with Ruthenian Greek Catholics, Armenian Catholics and Latin Catholics.
In 1946, under the communist dictatorship, the four-million-strong Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was outlawed. Its bishops were arrested and died in prison or exile; its priests were taken away, forced into hiding or compelled to join the Orthodox Church; more than 4,000 churches were closed or handed to the Orthodox; and countless Catholic laypeople were imprisoned, sent to gulags or deported. Similar treatment was given to the other Catholic communities in Ukraine. The Church honors the many martyrs who died for the Catholic faith over the long decades of Soviet rule.
Very much aware of the legacy of suffering, the Catholics of Ukraine, who today make up almost 10% of the country’s population, live in fear of renewed Russian repression.
We have already seen Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic clergy forced to leave the region of Crimea in Ukraine after its seizure by Russia in 2014 and the favor shown by the Russian government toward the Russian Orthodox Church. Ukrainian Catholics, however, are also confronting the invasion with determination and prayer.
EWTN News has covered this important story from the beginning, reporting on stories of heroism and acts of intense charity, even as the bombs have been falling and Russian tanks, planes and soldiers bring destruction and suffering.
The invasion has also directly impacted the EWTN family.
EWTN Ukraine, a part of the global EWTN Network, began broadcasting in 2011, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Staffed largely by priests from the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, EWTN Ukraine is also supported by many Ukrainian friends and volunteers.
The director general of EWTN Ukraine, Missionary Oblate Father Oleksandr Zelinskyi, recorded a video message at the start of war, asking for prayer and support. “As Catholics,” he said, “we pray to God and hope that our life is in [his] hands.” Father Zelinskyi then announced his plans to stay despite the dangers. “We broadcast Masses and prayers from our chapel,” he said, “and we know that people need it now. So as long as it will be possible, I will stay here with some of our co-workers.”
That decision to stay came as no surprise to me. I have visited Ukraine over the years and know firsthand the courage and faith of Ukrainian Catholics. I have heard firsthand the stories of persecution. I have visited beautiful cathedrals and churches that were once vibrant centers of faith but turned into sterile museums and concert halls in the Soviet era. Yet despite all these hardships and sufferings, the faith of the Ukrainian people has been unshakeable. What more can we do as Catholics?
First, we can support the many Catholic charitable efforts underway to provide material support for the Ukrainian people. One of the biggest is by the Knights of Columbus, who have promised to match every dollar donated to their Ukraine Solidarity Fund up to $500,000.
Second, we can add our voices to those calling for solidarity with the Ukrainian people against violations of international law while recognizing that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2265) teaches that every nation has the right to defend itself against aggression.
Finally, we must continue to pray and to fast, as Pope Francis has requested. We should pray for peace and that this conflict does not spread into a broader, even more catastrophic, world war. Pope Francis asked that March 2, Ash Wednesday, be a day of fasting and prayer for peace while imploring the Queen of Peace to “preserve the world from the madness of war.” It was a beautiful request. As we persevere on our Lenten journey, let us continue to pray, to fast and to ask Our Lady for her intercession for peace in Ukraine and in the world.
God bless you!