VATICAN CITY — As the threat of war loomed over the world, Pope Francis called on people to pray and fast for peace in Ukraine on Ash Wednesday.
Before concluding his general audience Feb. 23, the pope called on believers and nonbelievers to combat the “diabolical insistence, the diabolical senselessness of violence” with prayer and fasting.
“I invite everyone to make March 2, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace,” he said. “I encourage believers in a special way to devote themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day. May the Queen of Peace protect the world from the folly of war.”
In his appeal, the pope said he, like many around the world, felt “anguish and concern” after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The pope said that due to the “alarming” developments in the region, “once again, the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests.”
“I would like to appeal to those with political responsibilities to do a serious examination of conscience before God, who is the God of peace and not of war, who is the father of all and not only of some, who wants us to be brothers and sisters and not enemies,” he said.
He also urged world leaders to “refrain from any action that would cause even more suffering to the people, destabilizing the coexistence between nations and discrediting international law.”
Putin’s recognition of the two breakaway regions’ independence was seen by Western leaders as a violation of international law protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and as a move that could pave the way for a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine.
In the wake of the Russian president’s actions, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union announced sanctions against several Russian banks and institutions.
In a statement released Feb. 22, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said Putin’s recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has caused “irreparable damage” to the “logic of international relations.”
He also said the Russian president “destroyed foundational principles for a long-term process of restoring peace in Ukraine” and “created the path for a new wave of military aggression against our state.”
“Today, all of humanity has been placed in danger,” he said, because Putin’s action asserts that “the powerful have a right to impose themselves on whomever they wish, with no regard for the rule of law.”
Archbishop Shevchuk reminded world leaders of their duty and responsibility “to actively work to avert war and protect a just peace.”
“I call upon all people of good will to not ignore the suffering of the Ukrainian people brought on by Russian military aggression,” he said. “We are a people who love peace. And precisely for that reason we are ready to defend it and fight for it.”
Welcoming those fleeing threat of war
WARSAW, Poland — With the “further escalation of tension in Ukraine,” the president of the Polish bishops’ conference asked Polish Catholics to continue praying for peace, but also to be prepared to welcome Ukrainian refugees.
An archbishop in Lviv, Ukraine, made a similar statement, saying people displaced from their homes already were arriving in the western part of the country, and a representative of Catholic Relief Services said the U.S. Catholic international aid organization was prepared to help.
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, appealed “to my countrymen for open and hospitable hearts for refugees from Ukraine who will seek refuge from war in Poland.”
Encouraging Poles to continue praying for peace, the archbishop told them: “Everyone has the right to live in peace and security. Everyone has the right to seek for themselves and their loved ones conditions that will ensure a safe life.”
Archbishop Gadecki asked Polish Catholics to give generously to Caritas Poland and their local parish Caritas agencies to help refugees; the agencies, he said, are making plans to increase refugee support programs “in case of further escalation of tension and military action.”
In Lviv, Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki said while the Church still hoped for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, “we are ready to welcome people in churches, provide them with food and water. We have organized first-aid courses for priests, religious and laypeople to care for the injured if necessary.”
He told the pontifical aid agency Aid to the Church in Need that vacant houses had been rented and were being used as shelters for the displaced.
In Baltimore, Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said the agency was working with Caritas Ukraine preparing to provide assistance to civilians affected by an escalating conflict.
“At the same time, we recognize that the humanitarian crisis resulting from an invasion of Ukraine would completely overwhelm the capacity of the aid agencies in the region. The freezing winter temperatures, likely damage to health facilities and other vital infrastructure, and the enormity of the civilian population in harm’s way could lead to suffering on a scale we have not seen in Europe in our lifetimes.”
He said he hoped and prayed that “diplomacy prevails, and the situation comes to a peaceful resolution.”
>> How to help people in Ukraine
Various Catholic agencies are collecting donations to aid with the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as people flee to escape Russian bombing and shelling. Here are some places to donate. This list is not exhaustive.
The international Caritas confederation is collecting funds to help Caritas Ukraine. In the United States, that is through Catholic Relief Services: https://bit.ly/3LWtOKa. Internationally, you can donate through https://www.caritas.org/.
The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia also has a link: https://ukrarcheparchy.us/donate.
Two pontifical agencies also are taking donations for Ukraine: Catholic Near East Welfare Association, https://cnewa.org/campaigns/ukraine/, and Aid to the Church in Need, https://bit.ly/3sgpuNV. Internationally, Aid to the Church can be reached at https://bit.ly/3vfqCn4.