VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Six months into the war in Ukraine, Catholic prelates in the bombed-out country are hoping to rally the spirits of Ukrainian citizens, while urging world leaders to remember their plight. Meanwhile, Pope Francis continues to call for dialogue.
“Ukraine is standing. Ukraine is fighting. Ukraine is praying,” Greek Catholic Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said in his message from Ukraine on Monday August 15, which also marks the Catholic feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in heaven.
Shevchuk has written daily bulletins from Ukraine, where he writes that the faithful face “a large-scale, heavy and bloody war” launched by an “unjust aggressor”. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which he justified by condemning the country’s intention to join Western alliances, including NATO, as a national security risk to the Russia.
The Greek Catholic leader was outspoken in condemning the Russian invasion, in stark contrast to the Vatican’s reluctance to point fingers at the Kremlin, a diplomatic effort the Vatican hopes will pave the way for mediation.
In Monday’s message, Shevchuk described Russian attacks on residential neighborhoods in Kharkiv. He also said Russian troops were targeting educational institutions in hopes of starting the school year in September. He highlighted the position of the Catholic Church in the defense of human rights and its efforts to defend the most vulnerable, especially the sick, injured and suffering.
“Our Church wants to be close to you,” he said. “Know that in your hospital bed, in this bed of pain, you are not alone, the Lord God is with you. And your Church, your priests are also nearby.
Pope Francis has come out openly in favor of peace in war-torn Ukraine. During his Angelus address on Sunday, the pope prayed for “mercy and pity for the beaten Ukrainian people.” But Francis avoided outright condemnation of Russia and, in an interview in June, criticized those who would reduce the war in Ukraine to a matter of good versus evil.
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The Vatican’s diplomatic stance on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is not always easy for many Ukrainians to accept, according to Monsignor Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Vatican’s envoy to Ukraine.
“The Holy Father is not a politician, he is a pastor,” Kulbokas said in an interview with Vatican media published Sunday.
“When the pope reiterates his calls for dialogue, which seems humanly impossible to us, if we are believers, we hope for the impossible and entrust this call, this prayer, not only to men but to God himself”.
Kulbokas acknowledged that many Ukrainians find it hard to believe in the possibility of peaceful negotiations, as they doubt Russia will change its stance on the conflict. Instead of focusing on finding an immediate solution to the war, he said the local church was focusing on the humanitarian aspects as a way to promote dialogue. He admitted that global attention on the Ukrainian conflict has diminished since the onslaught of war.
“That is why the Holy Father repeats on every occasion that, at least in prayer, at least in heart, the world does not forget the many families who are going through difficult times,” he said, “and this does not only matter for Ukraine but also for other countries.
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