01 March 2022, The Tablet

Bishop gives blessing to Ukrainians going to fight

“What is life under Putin?  It is death.”

Bishop gives blessing to Ukrainians going to fight

Bishop Nowakowski presides at the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, 27 February

The eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in England has given his blessing to Ukrainians returning to their country to fight. Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski said that he did not want to encourage anyone “to do anything that would put them in harm’s way” but confirmed that “if they were to do that I certainly would give them my blessing”.

He was speaking after a service at the Cathedral of the Holy Family on Sunday, where John Wilson, the Archbishop of Southwark, preached that all people of good will had become “Ukrainian in spirit”. 

Bishop Nowakowski said that “we all have a role we can play” to end the conflict but this must begin with forgiveness at home. “If you cannot make peace in your home,” he told The Tablet, “it’s hard to believe that you can have influence for peace globally.”

The service in London had particular poignancy for him since marshal law in Ukraine prevented people attending churches there. “We have come to church today on their behalf,” he said.

He also rejected the suggestion that the Ukrainian government should stop fighting to avoid further casualties, saying that the Russian president could not be trusted: “What is life under Putin?  It is death.”

Later, he was joined at the cathedral by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who said that the UK “cannot shut our eyes to pass by on the other side” as Ukraine faced a “barbaric and unprovoked attack”.

The eparch was one of the signatories of a letter to the Foreign Secretary from the bishops of England and Wales last week, which spoke of the “clear moral duty to support Ukraine’s people” and welcomed the government’s “resolute defence of Ukrainian sovereignty”.

On Sunday, Pope Francis, who last week declared Ash Wednesday a day of fasting and prayer for peace, said that “those who wage war forget humanity” and “rely on the diabolic and perverse logic of weapons”.  He appealed for countries to open humanitarian corridors to welcome refugees.

In Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, said that his country understood that “we can never take peace for granted” and urged Catholics “to make sacrifices for peace”.  Dermot Farrell, the Archbishop of Dublin, called for the recognition of “all those affected by this war as our brothers and sisters”.  “This surely is the hour of compassion,” he said.

Catholic charities also condemned the Russian invasion. Tetiana Stawnychy, the president of Caritas Ukraine, described the war as “a huge trauma for all people” but emphasised “the solidarity we see of everyone inside this country”.

Catholic charities Depaul International and Aid to the Church in Need are also among those organisations helping those under siege in Ukraine as Russian troops close in on Kiev.

Aid to the Church in Need committed one million euros to support priests and religious in the country.  The charity has supported the Church in Ukraine in the past, said Thomas Heine-Geldern, its executive president, “and will not abandon her at this very critical and difficult time.”

The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, part of the Caritas Internationalis humanitarian network, launched an emergency appeal to provide relief to Ukrainians.  “We urge people here in Scotland to show their solidarity and give generously,” said the chief executive, Alistair Dutton.  “We pray for restraint, peace, and security in the coming days.”

Caritas Europa deplored “the consistent attacks on civilian lives” which “bring international law into disrepute”.  A statement noted the UNHCR’s estimate that half-a-million people have fled Ukraine, with many more internally displaced, but said that these numbers were growing rapidly.  The charity expressed “its firm and unconditional solidarity as a network to those affected by these acts of war.”

The executive committee of Justice and Peace Europe demanded “a new culture of peace in Europe” and implored the Orthodox Church in Russia to intervene with its government.

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