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Catholics in Europe react to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

View of an explosion near Dnipro, Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2022, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in Ukraine, in this image obtained by Reuters. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Rome Newsroom, Feb 24, 2022 / 06:05 am (CNA).This story is developing and will continue to be updated.

Catholics across Europe have reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with expressions of solidarity with the Ukrainian people and prayers for peace.

“Today peace on the whole European continent and beyond is facing a serious threat,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said Feb. 24.

Hollerich, who serves as the president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, said that he is deeply worried that the escalating Russian military actions in Ukraine have opened up “the alarming scenario of an armed conflict causing horrific human suffering, death and destruction.”

The Catholic cardinal called on EU leaders to “endorse measures promoting de-escalation … while avoiding any steps that could potentially reinforce the violent conflict.”

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, the Lithuanian–American archbishop of Vilnius and the president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, issued a statement urging the EU to “strive to end a war that would inevitably spread from Ukraine to neighboring states and become a threat to the whole of Europe.”

“The Churches in Europe strongly condemn what has happened tonight in Ukraine. We must act together, and with determination, to put an immediate end to the Russian aggression and to do everything possible to protect innocent women, men and children: in the name of God, stop now!” Grušas wrote.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, also condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

“I strongly condemn the actions of Russia and Vladimir Putin as an unacceptable and shameful act of barbarism directed against sovereignty,” Gądecki said in an appeal.

“At the same time – together with the whole Church in Poland – I express my solidarity with all Ukrainians, both in Poland and in Ukraine, assuring them of our closeness, prayer and availability to help,” he said.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, the Ukrainian Catholic eparchial bishop of London, urged government leaders and those in positions of power to remain steadfast in support of “the innocent citizens of Ukraine.”

“The day that we have been hoping would never come has arrived,” Nowakowski said.

“This morning we woke up to hear the news that Russia has unleashed its troops into an invasion of Ukrainian soil as well as firing missiles into Ukrainian territory.”

“We place the people of Ukraine under the protection of the Holy Family, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Most Holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, and the holy and righteous St Joseph the Betrothed,” he said.

Tetiana Stawnychy, the president of Caritas Ukraine, a Catholic charity, expressed concern that Ukraine is heading for a humanitarian catastrophe, adding that there were already 2.9 million people on both sides of the contact line who were in need of humanitarian assistance before the attack.

“The events which began early this morning will inevitably lead to a colossal humanitarian catastrophe,” Stawnychy said.

“It is impossible to believe that in the 21st century in the center of Europe people have to wake up at 5 am from explosions and the sound of air raid sirens,” she said.

Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the primate of Poland, called Feb. 24 a “tragic morning” in a message sent to the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

“On this tragic morning, joining in pain and asking God to stop the Soviet occupier, I remember in prayer and cry for peace for the beloved Ukrainian people,” Polak wrote in the text message, according to the Catholic Church in Poland.

English Cardinal Vincent Nichols underlined that dialogue and negotiation are the only way forward.

“The international community must unite in seeking an end to this conflict through peaceful means … It is their responsibility to ensure that international law and territorial sovereignty are respected,” Nichols said.

“We must also keep in mind the plight of those who will become refugees as a result of this attack.”

The cardinal said that he would be offering a Mass for the intentions of the victims of the conflict and their families, adding that he was praying for the Ukrainian people’s “strength and perseverance under this onslaught.”

Russian military breached the border of Ukraine at several points on the morning of Feb. 24. Ukrainian officials reported shelling and missile strikes across Ukraine, including at airfields and military headquarters near Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials said, as of almost 3:00 p.m. local time, that Russia had carried out 203 attacks across the country since before dawn, according to Reuters.

Both military and civilian deaths have been reported.

According to BBC News, on Thursday Russian military crossed into Ukraine not only from points on the Russian border, but also from Belarus, a Russian ally.

Bishop Oleg Butkevich, the head of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Belarus, commented that “the world was shaken by the tragic news that a military conflict has broken out between our neighboring countries.”

“I ask that, in peace, we may offer our prayers, both personal and in parish communities, for an end to the conflict as soon as possible and for the least number of victims from the conflict. And that it does not escalate into another world war,” he said.

“Christ tells us: ‘Everything is possible to one who has faith.’ (Mark 9:23-24) God help our unbelief. I also encourage fasting and offering up the sacrifice of suffering for this purpose.”

German Bishop Georg Bätzing, the head of the German bishops’ conference, released a joint statement with the chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

“We are shocked by the current development and call on the Russian Federation to refrain from further aggression,” it said.

The Catholic bishop and Protestant leader together called on Christians in Germany to pray for Ukraine as its “right to national self-determination” is being “trampled.”

“As Christians, we believe that peace is possible and closed doors can be opened again,” the joint statement said.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, supported Ukraine’s right to defend its independence as Russia attacked Ukrainian military targets on Thursday morning.

“It is our natural right and sacred duty to defend our land and our people, our state and all that is dearest to us: family, language and culture, history and the spiritual world,” Shevchuk said.

“At this historic moment, the voice of our conscience calls us all as one to stand up for a free, united and independent Ukrainian State,” he said.

“The history of the last century teaches us that all those who started world wars lost them, and the idolaters of war brought only destruction and decline to their own states and peoples.”

Shevchuk leads the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the biggest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See.

The major archbishop has taken cover in an air-raid shelter under the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv, together with others, the news website Il Sismografo reported.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin released a video message Thursday afternoon in which he said that wisdom is needed to save the world “from the folly and horrors of war.”

“And let us continue to pray and fast — we will do so next Ash Wednesday — for peace in Ukraine and throughout the whole world,” Parolin said.

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  1. Accepting Ukraine’s offer for it to make of its very self, a sort of “forward action” stratagem and combatant on behalf of “the west”, against Russia, is not amounting to a meaningful approach to strategic arms control and nuclear non-proliferation.

    In other words, Porochenko and Zelensky and that grouping, are a threat to the world. It could be their over-zealousness; it could be their cupidity. Whatever – inside Ukraine they are a rag-tag assortment of heavies and neo-somethings mixed up with idealists who all share a penchant for dropping bombs and inflicting woe.

    Moreover, whatever it is President Biden, and/or NATO, and/or Biden-NATO, is trying to do, the beneficial results aren’t being realized and can’t be visualized. What is demonstrated is a thinking that rapidly becomes exclusivist and remains fixed once it gets there -not good. It’s not surprising it went along with Porochenko and stayed with Zelensky.

    Now that Zelensky got what he set out to do, in the name of the independence of Ukraine; and the upgrading of NATO; and greatness – he is faced with managing a new situation of uncertainty, gloom and puzzlement, he brought upon the nation.

    In 8 or 9 years of upheaval and war in Ukraine, only the Churches have suffered. Most of the suffering has been Russian Orthodox in the eastern regions. The other Churches should have have recoiled from getting in with that, a long time ago.

    • This comment is absolutely appalling. The Ukrainians have every reason to fear Russia and seek alliance with NATO. Russia has inflicted a century of suffering on the people of Ukraine. NATO has never threatened or invaded anyone. You are defending a totalitarian-led Russia.

      • Ukraine under Obama-Biden-NATO-Porochenko-Zelensky, wrought internal havoc and death and perpetuated regional destabilization, all unjustifiable. In other words, Ukraine did what you said already and succeeded in multiplying suffering; and wants “the west” to continue to help defend that group’s style, of divide-and-rule and …. other bad things.

        Aforementioned group had no rational answers and the thing is, the same group is continuing to insist on “building” to the same pattern.

        There’s a larger issue here than Ukraine. It is to do with competent and visionary statesmanship, that has in the first instance, the ability and commitment, to position matters and questions properly. The group is at the same time searching for new ideas and, as well, answers to new problems, it can’t come up with on its own; and likely if it finds some, they will get turned into just more poison.

  2. The world is in a bad state when news about Catholic bishops calling for prayers is met with cynicism. These same bishops ( honorable exceptions) followed government lines and policy over an illness no more deadly than the flu. Church doors were closed the dying died alone and the bishops simply nodded. I will pray for all in this conflict and I pray too for the RCC to admit it was wrong to follow and not lead.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Catholics in Europe react to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Via Nova Media
  2. Ethicists Without Borders Statement on Russia’s Aggression against Ukraine | Catholic Moral Theology

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