Pope Francis’ Special Envoy to Ukraine: An ‘Army of Good’ Is Working to Save Millions of People

Cardinal Michael Czerny discusses the ongoing conflict and a possible papal visit.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development,  is serving as Pope Francis' special envoy to Ukraine.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is serving as Pope Francis' special envoy to Ukraine. (photo: National Catholic Register / Edward Pentin)

VATICAN CITY — Many refugees from Ukraine have remained close to the country’s borders in the hope of soon returning to loved ones and lives they had to leave behind, Cardinal Michael Czerny has said.  

In April 11 comments to the Register, the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development observed that the estimated 4.5 million Ukrainian citizens who have so far fled the country after Russia’s invasion have a very strong sense of belonging and continue to face a “dramatic” situation resulting in “manifold” material needs.  

Last month, Pope Francis sent Cardinal Czerny as his special envoy on two separate trips — the first to border towns in Hungary and the second to the Slovakian-Ukraine border — to show his solidarity with the refugees. The Pope also sent papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski to Ukraine and Poland to deliver humanitarian aid in a further expression of solidarity.    

In his comments to the Register, Cardinal Czerny, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia but raised in Canada, praised the humanitarian work carried out so far by Church organizations, individual faithful, and members of other institutions. But he said there’s still more to do, not only in terms of welcome, but also through prayer. “If we do not have faith in Christ the Savior,” he said, “everything we do will be in vain.” 

The cardinal also discussed the possibility of a papal visit to Ukraine and said the Holy Father and the Holy See are doing all they can to achieve peace.  


What was the refugee situation like in the various countries you visited bordering Ukraine? How were the people coping with the war? What were their spiritual and material needs? 

The situation was and is dramatic. People are living a situation not only of violence, but also of being uprooted from their land, their families, their lives. They need to be welcomed, cared for, and not left alone in this time of trial. Their material needs are manifold, from food to medicine, from help with documents to reception in structures or families that can take care of them. 


What had the refugees left behind in the country, and how hopeful were they of finding refuge in other parts of Europe?  

People left everything behind, starting with their homes. But, above all, they have had to leave behind relatives, parents, grandparents, friends. Often, what is striking is that they do not want to go too far from the Ukrainian border: They hope to return to their homes to rebuild what the war has taken away from them, as soon as this is possible. The Ukrainian people’s sense of belonging is very strong. 


How were members of the Church and other denominations and religions helping refugees on the border?  

We met with Church organizations, such as Caritas and the Order of Malta, international institutions, volunteers. All of them are involved in providing shelter, organizing transfers to safe places, especially in Europe, setting up facilities where refugees can find temporary accommodation, providing food and medicine, assisting with the paperwork for visas and travel documents. As the war of arms increases, we realize how a true “army of good” is working to help and save millions. 


What can the faithful in the West do to help the people of Ukraine and especially the refugees seeking asylum in the West? Are we doing enough? 

Welcome, welcome, welcome. We are doing a lot, but we can do even more and better. I know that many parishes, associations and families have taken action, almost everywhere in Europe, and this is really good. Communion comes out in difficulties. But let us always remember that “love” is never a one-way street. The people we help will bring us a great deal as a gift: the chance to love, the chance to open our hardened hearts. If we show them love today, they will show love to others tomorrow.  


Do you have plans to return there? 

I am not announcing plans now. We will see what will be best. Love is patient, as St. Paul says, but it is also active and well organized in the field. I will be available when my physical presence, to witness once again the connection of the Pope, will be useful to bring comfort and support. The Holy See will do everything to achieve peace. 


What needs to be done to help bring peace, what can we do individually to help foster peace, and does the Holy See have a role to play in mediation? 

In addition to what I have already said, let us not forget prayer: It moves mountains. And if we do not have faith in Christ the Savior, everything we do will be in vain. The Holy See has already offered its mediation on several occasions, but all parties must agree for this to happen. The Holy Father has said several times that he is ready to do whatever is necessary. In the meantime, the Holy See continues to work in three directions: diplomacy, humanitarian aid and prayer. 


How important would a visit by Pope Francis to Ukraine be for the suffering people there, for the refugees and for world peace? What could he influence through the visit?   

First of all, the right conditions must be created, the conditions for concrete steps towards peace. Certainly, the initiative would have a great resonance, not only for the political and military situation, but also for ecumenical dialogue, which is a precious fruit that Francis — in the wake of his predecessors — has reinvigorated. The trip would have great significance in general, and not only symbolically, because the Holy Father is the most followed and listened to on an international level, even by those who are not Christian or Catholic. Francis condemns cruelty and abominations, and he works quietly for unity. He is present in many ways, even now.