VATICAN CITY — “We can pray for Ukraine by saying, ‘Hurry up, Lord,’” Pope Francis told visitors and pilgrims at his weekly general audience.
Pope Francis made another appeal for peace on Nov. 16, the day after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland near Ukraine’s border, killing two people. Russia also fired close to 100 missiles on Ukrainian targets, causing at least one death and leaving many without electricity.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said Nov. 16 there was a “high probability” that Ukrainian forces had fired the Russian-made missile as part of its defense against the Russian barrage and it accidentally landed in Poland.
Russia had not fired such a barrage in weeks but seemed to be targeting Ukraine’s electrical grid and other infrastructure ahead of the winter cold.
After praying for victims of a terrorist attack Nov. 13 in Istanbul, the pope told people in St. Peter’s Square, “Our constant prayer is also for martyred Ukraine. May the Lord give Ukrainians consolation, strength amid this trial and give them hope for peace.”
Pope Francis said he had learned “with grief and concern of a new and even stronger missile attack on Ukraine, which caused deaths and damage to much civil infrastructure.”
“We pray that the Lord will convert the hearts of those who still encourage war and let the desire for peace prevail for martyred Ukraine, to avoid any escalation and open the way to a cease-fire and dialogue,” he said.
“The whole situation is tragic — most people have nothing at all, while communication links are also down since cables, modems and satellite dishes were all ripped apart to allow only Russian TV and radio,” said Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk of Odesa-Simferopol, whose diocese includes Kherson, Ukraine.
“It’s dangerous to travel outside designated routes, since the roads are heavily mined. While many ordinary people fled Kherson at the outset, fearing it would be bombarded and destroyed, many were later tricked into leaving or forcibly deported, including huge numbers of children from the city’s orphanages. But most parishioners have stayed, and we’re doing what we can for them.”
Visiting Kherson Nov. 14, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops had systematically destroyed critical infrastructure and mined “all important objects” before Ukrainian forces entered Kherson Nov. 11.
Bishop Szyrokoradiuk said several Catholic churches in the Kherson region had been damaged or destroyed, but added that he had not heard of deaths or injuries among local Catholics.
He said clergy from Kherson’s Protestant and independent Orthodox communities had fled, fearing Russian reprisals, and said Catholic priests who remained in the region had been constantly watched and threatened by occupation troops.
The priests preached “only very short, careful homilies” at Masses, he said.
“We’re now praying and hoping the Russians don’t come back, that God will help us survive these terrible injustices — but there are many uncertainties,” Bishop Szyrokoradiuk said.
Jonathan Luxmoore contributed to this story.