Crowd offers prayers for Ukrainians suffering amid ‘unspeakable’ invasion

By Barb Umberger | Catholic News Service

MINNEAPOLIS (CNS) — Amid single-digit temperatures and light but steady snow, about 100 people carrying signs, banners and Ukrainian flags rallied outside St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in northeast Minneapolis Feb. 24 in support of Ukraine as Russia invaded and targeted the country’s military installations.

Speakers including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, whose great-great-grandparents emigrated from Ukraine, addressed the military invasion and the West’s response. The 5 p.m. rally ended more than an hour later with the crowd singing a Ukrainian spiritual anthem and shouting slogans, including “glory to Ukraine.”

Drivers passing by honked their horns in apparent solidarity. The Minnesota-based Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee organized the rally, said Luda Anastazievsky, who chairs the committee and served as the rally’s emcee. The committee represents the 17,000 Minnesotans believed to be of Ukrainian descent, she said.

St. Constantine is the only Ukrainian Catholic Church within the boundaries of the Latin-rite Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. More than 40% of St. Constantine’s 345 parishioners were born in Ukraine and 25% have parents who emigrated from that country, parish leaders said.

Father Ivan Shkumbatyuk, pastor of St. Constantine, said a prayer for Ukraine. He was joined by pastors of two local Ukrainian Orthodox churches, who also shared remarks. The rally was followed by a Mass.

Ukraine supporters rally outside St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in Minneapolis Feb. 24, 2022, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine. (CNS photo/Stephen Maturen, Reuters)

Less than 24 hours before the rally, Russian missiles rained on multiple sites inside Ukraine. A few hours after the rally, explosions were heard in Kyiv, amid fears that Ukraine’s capital could fall to the Russians by the weekend.

A United Nations relief agency spokesperson told The Associated Press that more than 100,000 people may have fled from their homes in Ukraine, and up to 4 million may leave for other countries if conditions worsen.

In remarks Feb. 24, President Joe Biden said the Russian military had begun a brutal assault on the people of Ukraine “without provocation, without justification, without necessity.” He said President Vladimir Putin was “the aggressor who chose this war.” Now he and his country will bear the consequences, Biden said.

Biden said he was authorizing “additional strong sanctions and new limitations on what can be exported to Russia,” designed to impose severe costs on that country’s economy immediately and over time.

At the rally, parishioner Taras Rafe, 49, said he emigrated from Ukraine with family members in 2005. His mother, who is a retired teacher as well as two siblings, other relatives “and tons of friends” remain in Ukraine, he said.

His family appeared to be “relatively safe” but “you cannot predict the future,” he told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

One cousin lives in the port city of Odessa in southern Ukraine, Rafe said, where a military assault took place because “the Russians desire that port.”

“So, I don’t know how he is going to get out of there,” Rafe said.

Rafe said he is worried about everyone in Ukraine — civilian and military. The Russian invasion is unspeakable, he said, and, historically, a turning point in human history.

“It’s as big as World War II, at least on a scale of our nation,” he said. “The biggest tragedy for Ukraine in the last 50 years.”

The Rev. Laurie Pound Feille, pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), attended the rally with her associate pastor, the Rev. Dan Adolphson.

Rev. Feille, who lives a couple of blocks from St. Constantine, said it was important to attend the rally not only to support “our Ukrainian siblings” in the Twin Cities but for those in Ukraine — “to let them know we care, we hear them, that we know they’ve been invaded, that we know the atrocities are happening against them,” she said.

“We came to stand here with our Catholic siblings to let them know, as Protestants, we stand with them and we are praying for peace and … for this to end very quickly,” she said.

Rev. Adolphson referenced the phrase “never again” — used, for example, in conversations about the Holocaust, racial injustice and invasions of countries. That the phrase has “kind of gone out the window” today, he said.

“It’s in those kinds of moments where we have to show up and stand and show love and support for our siblings here and in Ukraine,” he said. “This is a moment where they need to feel our love and our prayers, and know that they are not alone, that they are loved and they are cared for.”

Diana Pasichnyk, who taught in local Catholic schools for 30 years, attended the rally with her daughter, Christina Pedenko, who said it was important to be at the rally because her late father was born in Ukraine. “He escaped communism to come here for a better life for himself and his family,” she said.

Pasichnyk’s husband died six years ago. Pedenko said she’s “kind of glad” that he did not live to see the heartbreaking events in Ukraine today.

Maria Rafa, 46, a parishioner of St. Constantine, said Ukraine is a faith-filled nation. “There are a lot of prayers happening nonstop in different churches,” she said. “Faith is something that holds them together and gives them hope and gives them courage to fight.”

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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