Ukraine’s Catholic bishops have prayed for Russia’s conversion amid renewed air attacks over the New Year, warning that the end of Soviet rule failed to expunge Moscow’s “terrorist vision” of subduing their country.
“The best victory over the enemy lies in his awakening and conversion and prayer offers the most effective weapon, stronger than bullets,” the Roman Catholic bishops’ conference said.
“As war continues in our country, we can see how, although times have changed and the Soviet Union is gone, the same mentality and terrorist vision remain in Russia of enslaving and subjugating a free and independent Ukraine.
“The extent of this drama provides a great summons to heal the consequences of this long-dominant anti-Christian ideology. We must constantly work in this direction.”
The message was issued for the centenary of the Soviet Union’s foundation by Vladimir Lenin in December 1922, as power and heating outages continued in Kyiv and other cities following a wave of Russian missile and drone attacks.
It said Catholics should continue honouring the Soviet regime’s millions of victims, including those who died in Ukraine’s 1932-1933 Moscow-engineered Holodomor, or Great Famine, as well as victims of the “planned destruction” of religious life under eight decades of communist rule.
The message added that the country’s bishops were now again “asking for the conversion of Russia”, in fulfilment the Virgin Mary’s call at Fatima in 1917.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Greek Catholic archbishop, Svetoslav Shevchuk, said the start of 2023 had inflicted a “heavy blow” at the country’s heart, with injuries and structural damage in Kyiv, as Russia tried but failed “to rob Ukrainians of New Year celebrations”, and said he was confident the coming year would bring “victory for the homeland”.
The head of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko, said the past year had shown Ukrainians “who are their true friends, and who are wolves in sheep’s clothing”, while also teaching them “to separate the important from the secondary, the true from the false, the truth from the lie”.
“We are enlightened by love, whereas they, our enemies, are blinded by hatred, so victory will be ours”, the 43-year-old Church leader said in his new year message.
“We did not want this war, it was insidiously and cruelly imposed on us by an enemy who invaded our land, shedding blood, sowing death and violence. But we did not break down and surrender, as the aggressor hoped. We have stood firm and therefore already won morally.”
Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Monday 63 invading soldiers had been killed in a Ukrainian missile counter-strike on Makiivka, in Russian-controlled Donetsk, although Ukrainian military authorities put the figure much higher, while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed that Moscow’s continuing missile and drone strikes would not break Ukrainian resolve.
In an Angelus message on Sunday, the Pope said the war in Ukraine seemed “even more strongly intolerable” on World Peace Day, after meeting last Friday with relatives of the 15,000 Ukrainian POWs estimated by international organisations to be currently held by Russia.
However, at a weekend prayer service in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral, Patriarch Kirill of Russia vowed his church would “stand on spiritual guard, leading its people to salvation” under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin and his government and army.
Kirill said he hoped the coming year would end “divisions and schisms which were a direct consequence of dangerous political actions directed against our Fatherland” and deliver Russia “from external enemies, visible and invisible”.
“If our Fatherland continues to develop like this, combining faith with education, culture, science, technology and everything that provides material strength and well-being, then Russia will be invincible,” Kirill said in his New Year message.
“It was Russia which saved the world from the terrible plague of fascism, and it was thanks above all to Russian victims that victory was achieved. Perhaps the Lord is calling us today, even without such terrible sacrifices, to ensure we help the world again find salvation, through our spiritual life and our faith.”
On Monday, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, urged Western countries to include Patriarch Kirill on their sanctions index as part of efforts to overthrow “the Russian defence complex”.