ROME — Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, Ukraine, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, knows his people are frightened.
“People are overwhelmed with a great fear, and this is normal in the face of such danger” as Russia continues to deploy troops all along its border with Ukraine and as the United States and other NATO countries place troops on notice for possible deployment, the archbishop said Jan. 25.
At the same time, he said, “as Christians, we possess hope of the victory of good over evil. We especially pray for those who want to harm our people, that the Lord will avert their evil intentions and guide them to the path of peace.”
The archbishop, his faithful and all Ukrainians, he said, are grateful to Pope Francis for setting Jan. 26 as a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine and for his constant prayers for an end to the fighting that began in 2014 between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine.
Saying he was worried about Ukraine and how a possible Russian-Ukrainian conflict could spread, the pope announced the day of prayer after reciting the Angelus prayer Jan. 23.
“I am following with concern the rising tensions that threaten to strike a new blow at peace in Ukraine and put into question the security of the European continent, with even wider repercussions,” Pope Francis said.
The fighting, Archbishop Shevchuk said, has amounted to “a silent war: it was not often mentioned in recent years, and the voice of the Holy Father was virtually the only one which called for peace and called to mind this bleeding wound in central Europe.”
But now “the situation is especially critical,” he said in a written response to questions. “We perceive a real threat from Russia in the form of a full-scale invasion of our country.”
On Jan. 26, at the end of his weekly audience, Pope Francis prayed that dialogue, the common good and reconciliation would prevail.
“Let us ask the Lord to grant that the country may grow in the spirit of brotherhood, and that all hurts, fears and divisions will be overcome,” he said at the end of his weekly general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall Jan. 26.
“May the prayers and supplications that today rise up to heaven touch the minds and hearts of world leaders, so that dialogue may prevail and the common good be placed ahead of partisan interests,” he said.
“Let us make our prayer for peace in the words of the Our Father, for it is the prayer of sons and daughters to the one Father, the prayer that makes us brothers and sisters, the prayer of children who plead for reconciliation and concord,” he said.
“It is clearer than ever that the war in Ukraine is not just a war against Ukraine, and therefore not just a problem for Ukrainians,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “It is obvious that, today, Europe is facing the worst security crisis in decades,” and the pope “realizes how dramatic possible scenarios could be for the whole European continent.”
Of course, he said, “in union with millions of Christians around the world, the faithful of our Church in Ukraine and in the lands of immigration,” will mark the day of prayer for peace. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., he said, The Ukrainian Church’s Zhyve TV broadcast a “prayer telethon” live, including on its YouTube channel.
In a video message asking Ukrainians to pray, the archbishop told them: “When new dangers arise and the enemy is on our doorstep, our military checks their combat efficiency, statesmen work to streamline social mechanisms, diplomats work to ensure that the world supports our people and our state. And what do Christians do? Christians pray, fast and repent of their sins.”
U.S. bishop urges dialogue
As the United States and its NATO allies consider how best to respond to Russia’s massive buildup of military forces and equipment along its border with Ukraine, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international policy committee urged all parties to seek peace.
“With the alarming situation in Ukraine, we appeal to all leaders to respect the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine and to engage in constructive dialogue to peacefully resolve this conflict that impacts the lives and livelihoods of 43 million Ukrainians,” said Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois.
The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace made the comments in a Jan. 25 statement.
In his statement, Bishop Malloy urged Catholics and all people of goodwill to “join with the Holy Father, who, in his 2022 address to the diplomatic corps, said, ‘Reciprocal trust and readiness to engage in calm discussion should inspire all parties at stake, so that acceptable and lasting solutions can be found in Ukraine.’”
Bishop Malloy said Ukraine’s and Poland’s Catholic bishops issued an appeal Jan. 24 for government leaders to “refrain from war and ‘withdraw ultimatums immediately.’ They called on ‘the international community to join efforts in solidarity and actively support those under threat in all possible ways.’”