Eastern Catholic bishops in U.S. plead for peace, prayer for Ukraine, where ‘Jesus is crucified’

By Gina Christian | OSV News

(OSV News) — The Eastern Catholic bishops of the U.S. have appealed for peace in Ukraine, while calling on all Americans — whom they thanked for their “heartfelt sympathy and singular generosity” — to “continue to pray, advocate and help” Ukrainians as their battle against Russian aggression enters its tenth year.

The 19 Catholic bishops — representing the Armenian, Byzantine (Ruthenian), Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Syriac, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara and Ukrainian Catholic Churches — issued their statement March 24, following the conclusion of their March 21-23 annual meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. According to the Second Vatican Council’s teaching, these Eastern Catholic Churches are self-governing and co-equal to the Latin Church, enjoying full communion with each other and Pope Francis who heads the Latin Church.

Amid the sessions, the bishops gathered March 22 to celebrate Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, where Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of the Latin Church offered a homily in which he called for peace and justice in Ukraine.

During the bishops’ meetings, Archbishop Borys Gudziak of Philadelphia, metropolitan for Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S., recapped the profound damage Ukraine has sustained at Russia’s hands over the past nine years since Russian launched attacks in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the backing of separatist factions in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia speaks during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington March 14, 2023. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

From 2014 to 2021, some 14,400 Ukrainians were killed and 39,000 injured due to Russian aggression, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, more than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and more than 13,200 injured. Officially, 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed, according to Ukraine’s government, although the actual casualties are believed to be significantly higher. More than 8 million refugees have been recorded across Europe, with 4.85 million registered for some form of temporary protection, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than 16,200 Ukrainian children have been abducted by Russia, according to Ukraine’s government. On March 17, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian president Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova. Both are charged with the war crimes of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

With some 66,000 war crimes reported, Ukraine has filed charges of genocide by Russia with the International Court of Justice.

In their statement, the Eastern Catholic bishops also cited Russia’s widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, pointing to “some 150,000 residential buildings, 3,000 educational institutions, over 1,200 healthcare facilities and close to 500 religious buildings (that) have been damaged or destroyed.”

The “indiscriminate and intentional bombing of civilian targets and critical infrastructure reveals that this assault is directed not only at the Ukrainian defense forces, but … is a war against the general population of the country. The world has come to see and understand that the invaders seek to terrorize normal citizens: women, children, the elderly, the handicapped,” said the bishops.

They added that “ruthless aggression repeats historic Russian violence against Ukraine, its people and (its) culture.”

In particular, they said, Russian occupations in Ukraine during the 19th, 20th and now 21st centuries have “suffocated and strangled the Ukrainian Catholic Church,” while suppressing other faiths, including the Ukrainian Orthodox, as well.

Three partially occupied regions of Ukraine’s east — Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia — no longer have “any Catholic priests actively ministering, Roman or Eastern,” said the bishops.

Two Redemptorist priests, Father Ivan Levytskyi and Father Bohdan Heleta, were detained from their parish in Berdyansk in November and reportedly have been tortured.

“We ask that Americans continue to pray, advocate, and help. We call on political leaders to formulate policy in support of the people of Ukraine defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country,” wrote the bishops, adding that their message took on new significance as Holy Week approaches.

“The courage and sacrifice of Ukrainians calls for us to accompany them on their Way of the Cross to the Resurrection,” they said. “In Christ, the Passion always leads to new life. God’s justice and God’s truth will prevail. As we approach the salvific days of Holy Week, let us be with Jesus crucified in Ukraine. With faith, hope, and charity, let us stand at the foot of the Cross. Let us stand with the people of Ukraine.”

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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