Saying he was worried about Ukraine and how a possible Russian-Ukrainian conflict could spread, Pope Francis proclaimed 26 January as a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine.
Responding to a buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian-Russian border and the inability of major powers to agree on a solution, Catholic bishops in Ukraine and Poland and Ukrainian Catholic bishops in the United States also called for prayers for the prevention of war.
After reciting the Angelus prayer on 23 January, Pope Francis said, “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.”
“I make a heartfelt appeal to all people of goodwill to pray to Almighty God that all political actions and initiatives will serve human fraternity rather than partisan interests,” the pope said.
“Those who pursue their own goals to the detriment of others despise their vocation as human beings, because we have all been created brothers and sisters,” he said. “For this reason and with concern given the current tensions, I propose that next Wednesday, 26 January, be a day of prayer for peace.”
Ukrainian Catholic bishops in the U.S. asked Catholics to pray, be informed, and donate to help those affected by Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis.
“People near the front line often lack the basics — clean water, food, clothes, medicine,” they said.
They compared Russian buildup of troops to King Herod’s thirst for power and hegemony.
“This is a question of life and death, as nostalgia for an empire lost has led to senseless slaughter and immense suffering throughout Ukraine,” said the 22 January statement signed by all five Ukrainian Catholic bishops in the United States.
“The war in Ukraine is real. It kills, maims and destroys daily. An escalated Russian invasion will generate additional millions of refugees, more dead and injured, more tears and pain. Still, the people of Ukraine courageously endure. As they stand with a gun to their head, they ask for our solidarity,” they said.
The three Ukrainian Catholic bishops in Canada issued a message the following day, also calling on people to direct their efforts in being properly informed about the conflict in Ukraine and not falling for disinformation. They also urged people to pray for peace and justice and to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
“Although many in the world are not surprised at Russia’s conduct in the last months, others are perplexed as to why it sees a need, in this day and age, to strive toward imperialistic ambitions,” they wrote. “For our part, we simply and sincerely ask our brothers and sisters in Russia to reconsider the motives of their leaders in re-igniting the hardship that the citizens of Ukraine have undergone in the last seven years.
Appealing to their “shared Christian faith” with Russia, the bishops wrote: “Surely a neighborly solution of reconciling divergent political visions will prove more successful in building solidarity and mutual beneficial collaboration.”
In a statement on 24 January, Catholic bishops in Ukraine and Poland cited former popes, papal encyclicals and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to show that war is never the answer to problems.
“The current situation represents a great danger for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the entire European continent, which may destroy the progress made so far by many generations in building a peaceful order and unity in Europe,” said the joint statement.
“We call upon those in power to refrain from hostilities. We encourage leaders to immediately withdraw from the path of ultimatums and the use of other countries as bargaining chips. Differences in interests must be resolved not by the use of arms, but through agreements,” they said.
They included a prayer from St. John Paul II that said, in part: “Hear the cry of all your children, the anguished plea of all humanity. Let there be no more war — an evil adventure from which there is no turning back; let there be no more war — a maelstrom of struggle and violence. Grant that the war … which threatens your creatures in heaven, on earth, and at sea may cease.”
Russia annexed Crimea in early 2014 and, shortly afterward, Russian-backed separatists began fighting Ukrainian government forces in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Some 1.5 million people have fled the region to other parts of Ukraine and thousands of civilians and soldiers have died or been injured.
While in the spring of 2021 Russia was accused by many Western nations of trying to provoke more active fighting by holding military exercises near the border, a massive Russian buildup of troops just over the border created alarm in early December. The buildup has continued and, late 22 January, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office released a statement saying it had evidence that Russia was developing plans to install a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.
Laura Ieraci, assistant editor of ONE, contributed to this article.