VATICAN CITY — Highlighting the “terrible situation” unfolding in Ukraine, Pope Francis again called for prayers for the nation’s “noble and martyred” people.
The pope said his envoy there “told me about the pain of these people, the savagery, the monstrosities, the tortured corpses they find.”
Pope Francis was relaying the news he said he received Sept. 20 by telephone from Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, papal almoner, whom the pope has sent to Ukraine to deliver humanitarian aid and comfort in his name.
Speaking to those gathered for his general audience in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 21, the pope asked that people pray and unite with “these people who are so noble and martyred.”
Cardinal Krajewski was making his fourth visit to Ukraine since the war began and traveled to Odesa and surrounding areas.
In an interview with Vatican News published Sept. 19, the cardinal said he could only pray when he was standing near a mass grave site in eastern Ukraine and seeing the delicate and solemn removal of bodies.
“I knew I would find so many dead, but I met men who showed the beauty that is sometimes hidden in our hearts,” Cardinal Krajewski said after visiting the mass grave in the northeastern city of Izium.
“They showed a human beauty in a place where there could have only been revenge. Instead, there wasn’t,” he told Vatican News.
Russian forces fled the area after Ukraine launched a counteroffensive to regain occupied territory. In a forest near Izium, soldiers found a mass grave site with the remains of an estimated 500 people.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a video message, said investigators saw evidence that some of the victims had been tortured.
Similar mass grave sites were found earlier this year in other areas formerly occupied by Russian forces.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Russia’s involvement in the atrocities, and repeated accusations that mass grave sites were staged by Ukraine, the Reuters news agency reported.
Cardinal Krajewski, who was accompanied by Ukrainian Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia, said the careful removal of the bodies in Izium seemed like a solemn liturgy.
Noting that the workers removed the bodies as if they were doing it “for their own families, for their parents, children, siblings,” Cardinal Krajewski said that he and Bishop Honcharuk could only watch and pray.
The Dicastery for the Service of Charity announced Sept. 9 that Cardinal Krajewski would embark on his fourth trip to Ukraine and visit Odesa, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv and other locations in eastern Ukraine.
The purpose of his visit, the dicastery said, was to provide support to “various communities of faithful, priests and religious, and their bishops, who for more than 200 days continue to remain in the places of their ministry despite the dangers of war.”
“It is a silent and evangelical trip to be with the people who are suffering, praying and comforting each of them, showing with his presence that they are not alone in this situation that is only bringing destruction and death,” the statement said.
In an interview with Vatican News published Sept. 17, Cardinal Krajewski said he and several others came under gunfire while delivering humanitarian aid to suffering Ukrainians on Pope Francis’ behalf.
The Polish cardinal was delivering goods in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia with a Catholic bishop, a Protestant bishop and a Ukrainian soldier when the attack occurred.
“For the first time in my life, I didn’t know where to run because it’s not enough to run. You have to know where to go,” the cardinal said.
The cardinal and those with him managed to escape the attack and continued delivering goods loaded in a minibus.