Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Among the many images of the war in Ukraine that have left a lasting impression on me is a photo of a man at St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in Minneapolis during a prayer service in the early days of the conflict. He stands in front of a painting of the crucified Christ who has been taken down from the cross. You see the wounds on Christ’s hands, in his side and on his head, which seems to rest on the head of the praying man. To me, the photo shows in a striking way that Christ understands the pain of unjust violence. Of suffering. Of deep sorrow.
Ukraine has been experiencing a long Good Friday. In addition to those injured and killed in the war, millions have fled the country. U.N. officials have described it as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Sadly, however, there are many other besieged and beleaguered areas of the world: In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, an international humanitarian aid organization warned last month of the possibility of famine among Eritrean refugees that could rival the Great Famine of the 1980s when more than 1 million people died. Violence and poverty are driving families in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East to seek peace and basic security in other lands. Sometimes they are welcomed; many times they are not.
But they all have one thing in common. They are all in need of hope — the kind of hope we experience at Easter: Christ, who died on the cross, rose from the dead. He is the Light of the World, our redeemer, who defeats darkness and death. He is our hope. As Pope Francis said at the Easter Vigil a few years ago: “Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried hope, do not give up: God is greater. Darkness and death do not have the last word. Be strong, for with God nothing is lost!”
We could also use some Easter hope in our lives. In addition to world events that trouble our hearts, we face other kinds of darkness and struggles in our communities, parishes and homes: the long-term impact of COVID-19, physical and mental health issues, broken relationships and the rising tide of secularism, to name just a few.
But, amid these challenges, I see much hope, too: Hope inspired by those choosing to be fully initiated into the Church at the Easter Vigil. Hope in the ongoing synod process that seeks to listen to the people of God and give everyone a voice. Hope in the upcoming national revival to deepen our love and understanding of the Eucharist. Hope in the care and acts of service I see people in our diocese provide to others, both near and far.
I propose three things to work on this Easter season:
- First, I encourage you to continue with the prayer, fasting and almsgiving that you are giving special attention to this Lent. And, if you haven’t practiced these disciplines in the way that you had intended at the beginning of Lent, it’s not too late to start. Focus them on a special need in your family, community or part of the world that is especially suffering. At the start of Lent Pope Francis identified these practices as powerful spiritual tools: “Prayer, charity and fasting are not medicines meant only for ourselves but for everyone: Because they can change history. … [and] are the principal ways for God to intervene in our lives and in the world.”
- Make an intentional effort to participate in the synod process (and eucharistic revival when it begins) as opportunities become available. You won’t regret it. It will help to re-energize and revitalize not only your faith life, but the life of the entire Church.
- Be a sign of hope for someone else. If you don’t already, volunteer time for service or ministry needs in your parish or Area Catholic Community. Invite others to join you.
As we enter Holy Week, let us enter more deeply into the Paschal Mystery. Jesus is always with us. He is close to us in our times of pain and sorrow. We, too, must walk with Christ in his suffering on Good Friday. But his resurrection offers the promise of new life, reminding us that Christ — and Christ working through us — has the power to redeem and transform our lives and the lives of others. As Christians, we must radiate this Easter hope to the entire world.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Ketter
Bishop of Saint Cloud