24 February 2024, The Tablet

Ukraine’s bishops pray for victory to bring peace

“Forgiveness does not mean tacit approval of the offender’s actions and submission to evil,” said a statement from Ukraine’s Synod of Bishops.

Ukraine’s bishops pray for victory to bring peace

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski with a paper angel, one of 528 hung in the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile commemorating each child killed in the war.
Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales/Mazur

Prayers for a Ukrainian victory over Russia are not at odds with prayers for peace, the Ukrainian Catholic bishop for the UK and Ireland has said.

Speaking ahead of the second anniversary of the Russian invasion on 24 February, Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London said that true peace “is not just a cessation of war” and depended on security for Ukraine and justice for its aggressor.

“Praying for victory and praying for peace is not contradictory,” he said.

The bishop was speaking alongside Oleysa Khromeychuk, director of the Ukrainian Institute in London, and Petro Rewko, chairman of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile in Mayfair.

All three emphasised that public support for Ukraine had not waned in the West since the invasion, but said it now needed stronger backing to defeat what Ms Khromeychuk termed Russia’s “genocidal war”. She said that since February 2022 Ukraine had been given enough aid to survive “but never enough to win”.

Bishop Nowakowski’s comments echoed the “Message on War and Just Peace” issued by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) on 21 February.

“Forgiveness does not mean tacit approval of the offender’s actions and submission to evil, but rather overcoming by the power of Christ,” the message said.

“Is it possible for the human community to let the genocide of Ukrainians, which was organised by the Russian army in Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin, Mariupol, and many other occupied territories of Ukraine, go unpunished and unchallenged?”

The Church “has always made and continues to choose defence of the offended”, it said.

At the event in London, Bishop Nowakowski said that the UGCC in Ukraine and worldwide was concerned with “healing the wounds of war”, outlining the Church’s pastoral programme supporting families affected by the war and the clergy ministering to them.

The head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, told Vatican News this week that this was a “pastoral care of mourning” unlike the work of the Church in the West.

“What can we do?” he said. “Sometimes priority is given to being present rather than doing something: being there with the people who cry trying to show that the Lord is with us. Finding appropriate words for a mother who is mourning the death of her son, finding words to say to a young person who has lost his legs and does not know how to live, or a child who has seen his mother's death.

“What can you say to this poor child who doesn’t know how to relate with other people but also with himself?”

Archbishop Shevchuk said the Church was prioritising care for families which were struggling with the separation of war. “Most men are fighting today. This means that these families live without the daily presence of a father.”

He said 14 million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes and six million of these have left the country – 80 per cent of them young women and children.

Shevchuk also expressed concern at the decline in the number of marriages in Ukraine, from up to 600,000 annually before the war to 170,000 in 2023, when there were also 120,000 divorces. 

He said that while before the war the Church focused its support on two sorts of families – “dysfunctional families” on the verge of breakdown, and those where the mother worked abroad – it now had “four new challenges for family pastoral care”: those who have lost a relative, those with relatives injured in the fighting, those with missing relatives, and the families of prisoners of war.

“This is the picture of the suffering of Ukrainian families today, this is how war has struck at the heart of Ukrainian society, namely the family.”

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