At an ecumenical prayer service Sept. 21 to remember those killed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory joined Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, to pray for the dead and renew calls for peace for this war-ravaged nation.
Archbishop Gudziak prayed that God “in blessed rest will grant (the victims of war) eternal rest” and “make their memory eternal.” He also prayed to God to “place the souls of his servants, the victims of the war in Ukraine, who have left us, in the abode of the righteous, and to give them rest in the bosom of Abraham, and to number them among the righteous”. .”
The prayers were offered during the Panakhyda, a Byzantine Rite service for the deceased that took place in the crypt of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The service also marked 200 days since the beginning of renewed hostilities by Russia against Ukraine.
“We join tonight in the prayer of the Ukrainian Byzantine tradition to show our solidarity in the one Body of Christ,” Cardinal Gregory said. “We pray for those who defend their homeland that they will be strengthened to live in the fullness of God’s love.”
Cardinal Gregory and Archbishop Gudziak were joined by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for military services, United States; representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and others, including Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration. Just over 100 people – some of them in traditional Ukrainian dress – attended the mostly sung prayer.
“Tonight, as we come together to remember the senseless suffering of the Ukrainian people, we turn to our God, our only help,” Cardinal Gregory said. “Tonight we pray in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Tonight we remember our freedom, we remember the love of Jesus Christ for the whole world as we gather before the cross. The cross of Our Lord represents the greatest manifestation of love.
February 24 Russia invaded Ukraine and September 12 was the 200th day of the war, but many see the invasion as an escalation of a war that began in 2014 when Russia invaded and later annexed the peninsula. Crimean Ukrainian.
The United Nations reported that between the resumption of hostilities in February and this week, more than 5,900 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and an additional 8,700 civilians have been injured. The UN reported that at least 972 Ukrainian children were killed or injured.
“These staggering statistics tell the story of a horrific tragedy,” Cardinal Gregory said during the prayer service. “Yet in the midst of this terrible tragedy, we have witnessed some of the most charitable acts. It brought out the best in so many people around the world as they opened their homes and their hearts to refugees.
Both Cardinal Gregory and Archbishop Gudziak deplored reports of war crimes and other atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people by Russian soldiers.
Recently, a mass grave in the town of Izyum in northeastern Ukraine was discovered and is thought to contain the remains of around 500 people. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a video message, said investigators had seen evidence that some of the victims had been tortured.
Similar mass graves were discovered earlier this year in other areas formerly occupied by Russian forces.
In addition, in areas taken over by Ukrainian forces, UN human rights monitors have found evidence of torture, mutilation, rape, looting and deliberate killings of civilians by Russian troops. , as well as targeting civilian buildings such as churches, homes, hospitals, schools, and other buildings.
“Today our Ukrainian sisters and brothers face untold tragedies,” Cardinal Gregory said. “These war crimes call out to God as countless people mourn their dead. We must remember these people. We remember and name these atrocities to remember what is not authentically human, to remember that these sufferings do not come from God.
Bishop Gudziak asked for prayers for “those who were tortured and executed and no prayers were said for them.” He also reminded the faithful to “pray for those who constantly suffer…pray for all those who have been killed and for their eternal rest”.
The current hostilities have caused the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, as around 7.3 million Ukrainians have fled the country and another third of the population is displaced from their homes. The war has also been blamed for aggravating the global food insecurity crisis.
On Sunday, September 25, the Catholic Church celebrates the World Day for Migrants and Refugees. “Many nations of the world have opened their countries and their homes (to Ukrainian refugees),” Cardinal Gregory said. “It’s a wonderful example of humanity, but we can’t say we’re doing enough until there’s peace in Ukraine.”
The evening prayer service took place on a day when war rhetoric dominated the news.
On the morning of September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a televised address to his nation, threatened to use “all necessary means” – apparently referring to the deployment of nuclear weapons – to secure a Russian victory in Ukraine, and he also announced a partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists to join the military action.
Also on September 21, President Joe Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly, criticizing Russia for avoiding its nuclear nonproliferation agreements; “shamelessly violating the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter” and for “extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state”.
Addressing September 21 to those gathered for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis lamented “the pain, the savagery, the monstrosities” suffered by the Ukrainian people and asked the faithful to pray for ” those people who are so noble and martyred.
Recalling the day’s events, Bishop Gudziak conceded there was cause for concern, but added that “fear is something the devil wants to instill. We must believe that we are in the hands of the Lord. If we pray, if we trust in the Lord, if we look at the example of the martyrs, then we will find what we are looking for.
At the end of the Byzantine Liturgy, Bishop Gudziak noted that he had visited Ukraine four times in the past four months “and I saw the Ukrainian people standing up for justice (and) risking their lives.”
“Everyone I met (in Ukraine) – they thank you for your support. They thank you for being informed and for standing up for the truth,” he said. “They thank the people of goodwill for their humanitarian aid Everywhere I went, Ukrainians thanked Americans and American Catholics.
The Archbishop added that by his own estimate, American Catholics have contributed approximately $100 million in humanitarian aid to the suffering people of Ukraine. Cardinal Gregory made this point and said that “the generosity of the Catholic people in the United States should not be underestimated. The people of Ukraine need all the help we can give them, and we must insist that peace be returned to those from whom peace has been taken.
Bishop Gudziak said that while he was comforted by the fact that “there was a thunderous chorus of support from the United Nations” and that the Church “has been part of the freedom and liberation efforts”, he was also saddened by “the daily stream of funerals in cemeteries.
“Seeing so many funerals and so many grieving families is so painful,” Bishop Gudziak said. “However, I haven’t heard a single Ukrainian say, ‘We have to give up.'”
Bishop Gudziak said those wishing to help should send donations to Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, Knights of Columbus and the many other Catholic agencies that raise money. He noted that donating money is the best way to help the people of Ukraine, as not only does it avoid shipping hassles, but many needed items can be purchased in Ukraine and thus support the local economy.
“Please keep praying,” he said. “There is nothing more powerful.”