The Russian military invasion of Ukraine began just as the intelligence community in the West said it would, with missiles targeting key military and communications posts near Ukraine’s principal cities: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, even as far west as Lviv.
Just hours before this wanton act of aggression, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, released a statement from Kyiv outlining how the president of the Russian Federation, in recognizing the “independence and sovereignty” of the separatist regions in Ukraine’s east, “creates serious challenges and threats for the entire international community and for international law, on the basis of which today people and their nations exist and cooperate.
“Irreparable damage has been done to the very logic of international relations, which are called to safeguard peace and the just order of societies, the supremacy of law, the accountability of state powers, the defense of the human being, human life and natural rights,” he said.
“Today all of humanity has been placed in danger — that the powerful have a right to impose themselves on whomever they wish, with no regard for the rule of law.”
Now the unthinkable has come to be: Under the cover of darkness, Russia has invaded its neighbor, unprovoked. Stunned, Ukrainians are beginning to flee harm’s way, even as the nation’s leaders vow to defend their homeland.
“We consider the defense of our native land, our historical memory and our hope, our God-given right to exist to be the personal responsibility and sacred duty of the citizens of Ukraine,” the major archbishop said. “The defense of our Fatherland is our natural right and civic duty.”
Among those remaining in place are Ukraine’s Greek Catholic priests who, according to CNEWA’s project officer for Ukraine, Anna Dombrovska, will remain in their parishes to minister to the needs of those in flight, as well as those who will not flee. If need be, she added, churches will be converted into hospitals and sanctuaries.
“The church has been very concerned about its infrastructure in the months leading up to this invasion,” she said. “Knowing the church to be a target for its role in helping to forge an independent Ukraine, the leadership has been working to secure its satellite communications tools and to shore up cyber security.”
CNEWA has long supported the many pastoral and humanitarian works of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, including its activities in South America and in Ukraine proper after the church emerged from the underground after decades of Soviet persecution.
Ms. Dombrovska noted that CNEWA’s primary partner on the ground, Caritas Ukraine, the charity of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is preparing to receive scores of refugees, offering the displaced food, medicine, COVID-19 tests, shelter, transportation and warmth.
“We are strong when we are together,” noted the major archbishop, as he implored the one God for “wisdom for those entrusted with making important decisions for society, in whose hands lies the fate of humanity. We ask the Heavenly Father for assistance in restoring a just peace on Ukrainian land.
“We pray especially for those who defend Ukraine, who in these days are for us an example of loving sacrifice and dedicated service to their people. May the merciful Lord protect them from every danger and crown their efforts with the victory of truth and good.”
Prior to the invasion, Pope Francis called for a Day of Fasting and Prayer on Ash Wednesday, 2 March:
“I would like to appeal to everyone, believers and non-believers alike. Jesus taught us that the diabolical senselessness of violence is answered with God’s weapons, with prayer and fasting. I invite everyone to make next 2 March, Ash Wednesday, a Day of Fasting for Peace.
“I encourage believers in a special way to dedicate themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day.”
As an agency of the Holy See called to work with the Eastern churches, CNEWA invites its friends and benefactors to join with the Holy Father in prayer and fasting for a just and lasting peace. And for those who wish to help, CNEWA has launched a campaign to support the church’s efforts to comfort those affected by the madness of men.
Visit https://cnewa.org/campaigns/ukraine/ to make your secure gift.
Michael J. L. La Civita is CNEWA’s communications director.