I write these reflections at the end of February 2022. The world still suffers from the horror of COVID-19, which has killed nearly six million people. Other disasters impact the world where CNEWA and Pontifical Mission serve, such as drought and food scarcity in the Horn of Africa. There is political instability throughout the Middle East, and anti-Christian violence in India. Oppressive political, economic and banking crises affect large numbers of people whom we serve. Trust in all institutions, political and religious, is collapsing.
At this hour, Russia has invaded Ukraine by air, land and sea, from the east, the north and the south. This crisis threatens well beyond Russia and Ukraine. Please note that CNEWA and Pontifical Mission remain committed to three goals: prayers for justice and peace in the region, the dissemination of accurate information, and collaboration with our partners in the coordination of aid, especially for those in need throughout Ukraine.
On 24 February, from a bunker under the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, issued an impassioned declaration. He wrote:
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! We are a peaceful nation that loves children of all nations with Christian love, regardless of origin or belief, nationality or religious identity.
We do not infringe upon others and do not threaten anyone, but we have no right to give our own to anyone! 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!
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.
We believe that in this historic moment the Lord is with us! He, who holds in his hands the fate of the whole world and of each person in particular, is always on the side of the victims of unjust aggression, the suffering and the enslaved. It is he who proclaims his holy name in the history of every nation, captures and overthrows the mighty of this world with their pride, the conquerors with the illusion of their omnipotence, the proud and insolent with their self-confidence. It is he who grants victory over evil and death. The victory of Ukraine will be the victory of God’s power over the meanness and arrogance of man! So it was, is and will be!
Our holy church-martyr has always been and always will be with its people! This church, which has already survived death and resurrection, as the body of the risen Christ, over which death has no power, the Lord gave to his people in the baptismal waters of the Dnipro River.
From the horrific images of suffering, death and destruction that inhabit our social media, print sources and the seemingly endless cacophony of empty political rhetoric, the Gospel and the prophetic vision of Pope Francis emerge as much-desired glimmers of hope.
In his encyclical letter, “Fratelli tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” the pope identifies a major theme as the need to build a new culture, a “culture of encounter.” The Holy Father calls for “a need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter.” We need “to cultivate a penitential memory.” Only the cultivation of such memory will permit us to move into the future.
Is this not true for our personal relationships, as well as in the relations of nation states?
Then, there is the role of reconciliation and forgiveness. Some may see forgiveness as a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is a central theme for the Christian. It is central to the message of Jesus, who tells us to forgive “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22). However, forgiveness never permits the oppressor to continue to oppress. Forgiveness never means we forget: “The Shoah must not be forgotten,” the pope writes, nor can we forget “the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Ultimately, we look to the crucified and risen Jesus, especially as we enter into the seasons of Great Lent and Easter. In his life, death and resurrection, the true meaning and mystery of the theodrama, God’s engagement in human history, is unlocked before us!
In these seasons of Lent and Easter, overwhelmed as we may feel at times by the enormity and omnipresence of suffering throughout the world, let us strive to be people of hope. Through our prayer, commitment to the truth, and generous self-giving through our gifts, we can emerge as instruments of hope pointing always to the source of hope, the crucified and risen Jesus!