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Thousands gather to honor martyrs old and new in Ukraine

STRADCH, Ukraine — Thousands gathered at a beloved pilgrimage site in Ukraine to honor martyrs slain in Soviet times, while mourning soldiers killed in Russia’s current full-scale invasion of their land.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the global Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was the principal celebrant at a June 26 Divine Liturgy on the grounds of Stradch, a Marian spiritual center in the Lviv region with a rich history of religious devotion.

The liturgy marked the date in 1941 when Father Mykola Konrad, pastor of Stradch’s church, and layman Volodymyr Pryima, the parish’s cantor, were shot by retreating Soviet troops as they returned from bringing holy Communion to a sick woman in the village. Both Father Konrad and Pryima, who are buried at Stradch, were among the 30 martyrs beatified by St. John Paul II during his 2001 pastoral visit to Ukraine.

Several armed Ukrainian ground patrol troops and local police officers guarded the annual pilgrimage, which had been canceled last year due to Russia’s invasion.

Archbishop Shevchuk — who was joined by close to half of Ukraine’s Catholic bishops, as well as Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak, head of Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S. — said he wished to “thank God and the Ukrainian army that we have this day, that we are alive, that we can come together here today.”

He lauded “the men and women who fight with their blood, and who fight this very moment” to repel Russia’s aggression, which began in 2014 with the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and the fomenting of separatist activities in the country’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

From 2014-2021, an estimated 14,200-14,400 Ukrainians, both soldiers and civilians, were killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, investigators have documented approximately 80,000 war crimes they say were committed by Russia. In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for the unlawful deportation and transfer of close to 19,400 children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

Ukraine has filed charges of genocide by Russia with the International Court of Justice — and has called to add charges of ecocide, given the June 6 destruction of Ukraine’s Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Kherson, which drained one of the world’s largest capacity reservoirs and caused catastrophic environmental damage. The nonprofit Institute for the Study of War, based in Washington, assessed that Russia was likely behind the attack.

Addressing a group of bereaved Ukrainian military families — many of whom wept throughout the liturgy — Archbishop Shevchuk said, “Your tears are our tears. … We are crying for fallen heroes who died for Ukraine, (and for) the gift of freedom to pray.”

Reflecting on the deaths of Father Konrad and Pryima, Archbishop Shevchuk said while perhaps their attackers “thought they were brave … it was vice versa. The martyr is the victor, the one who wins, who overcomes with the strength of God.”

A martyr is “a witness to Christ’s resurrection,” said Archbishop Shevchuk. “This kingdom of God is among us. … The Lord is ready to give us all strength (needed) to overcome the enemy. God calls us to do the impossible in Him.”


Papal peace envoy to meet with Putin’s foreign policy adviser in Moscow

By Justin McLellan | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi was scheduled to meet with a Kremlin foreign policy adviser during the peace mission he is making to Moscow on Pope Francis’s behalf, the Kremlin said.

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, told journalists June 28 that the cardinal would meet with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Russian ambassador to the United States, “per instructions” from the president, according to TASS, the Russian state news agency.

Cardinal Zuppi and Ushakov were expected to “discuss the situation around the Ukrainian conflict and, of course, the possible ways of a political and diplomatic settlement,” Peskov said.

He also noted that Russia “appreciates the Vatican’s efforts and initiatives to find a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian crisis and welcomes the pope’s desire to contribute to ending the armed conflict in Ukraine,” TASS reported.

Cardinal Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, arrived in Moscow June 27 accompanied by an official from the Vatican Secretariat of State and was scheduled to remain in the Russian capital until June 29.

He is on the second leg of a peace mission that also saw him travel to Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The principal aim of the cardinal’s trip to Russia was “to encourage humanitarian gestures that may contribute to favoring a solution to the tragic current situation and finding ways of reaching a just peace,” the Vatican said in a statement announcing the trip June 27.

While the Vatican did not provide a list of the people Cardinal Zuppi would meet in Russia, the Archdiocese of Moscow said on social media that a meeting between the cardinal and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow was possible. The patriarch has been a staunch supporter of the war since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The archdiocese also said Cardinal Zuppi was scheduled to meet with Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow June 29 and participate in a Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow.

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