Bishop W. Shawn McKnight is encouraging people throughout the Jefferson City diocese to continue praying and offering up sacrifices for a peaceful resolution to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine.
He joined Pope Francis in urging all people of faith and goodwill throughout the world to observe Ash Wednesday (March 2), as a day of prayer and fasting for peace, and to continue imploring God for an end to the suffering and loss of life.
“An unjust war is never a solution to disagreement among nations,” Bishop McKnight stated on Feb. 25, the day after Russia launched its invasion of neighboring Ukraine. “The callous disregard for the sanctity of human life and the necessity of a just society scars the human family and wounds the souls of those who perpetuate violence.
“Let us join all people of good will in praying for a softening of the hearts of those who are inflicting so much suffering upon the citizens of Ukraine,” Bishop McKnight continued. “We also pray for those in leadership, that they may have the wisdom to know how to build peace and the fortitude to persevere in their efforts.”
Prayers must continue
Bishop McKnight asks the faithful to continue praying the following prayer, adapted from Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic bishops of Canada, as part of their daily offering and at the conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass:
Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!
We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms.
But our efforts have been in vain.
Grant peace in Ukraine; guide our steps and give us the courage to say: “Never again war!”
Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.
Bless the leaders with wisdom, vision and perseverance to build together a world of justice and solidarity, and to break down walls of hostility and division.
To You we entrust all families and pray that they may never yield to discouragement and despair, but become heralds of new hope to one another in this challenging time.
May You continue to inspire all of us to oneness of heart and mind, to work generously for the common good, to respect the dignity of every person and the fundamental rights which have their origin in the image and likeness of God impressed upon every human being.
Grant eternal rest to the dead and quick recovery to the wounded.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen!
Other ways to help
Various Catholic agencies are collecting donations to aid with the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as people flee to escape Russian bombing and shelling.
The international Caritas confederation is collecting funds to help Caritas Ukraine. In the United States, that is through Catholic Relief Services: support.crs.org/donate/donate-ukraine.
The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia also has a link: ukrarcheparchy.us/donate.
The Knights of Columbus launched the Ukraine Solidarity Fund, and donations can be made at kofc.org/secure/en/donate/ukraine.html. On Feb. 25, the Knights of Columbus announced a commitment of $1 million for immediate distribution to support Ukrainian refugees and will match all funds raised up to an additional $500,000. The relief funding will be used to provide shelter, food, medical supplies, clothing and religious goods, as well as other humanitarian needs as identified, both directly in Ukraine and through refugee sites in Poland.
Donations can also be made to Jesuit Refugee Service at jrsusa.org to support the agency’s work in Europe “to accompany, serve, and advocate for those forced to flee from war and conflict.”
“Stop the war!”
As Russian troops pressed toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Pope Francis left the Vatican Feb. 25 to pay a visit to the Russian ambassador to the Holy See.
The pope went to the embassy, located at the end of the main road leading to the Vatican, “to express his concern for the war,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.
This was a diplomatically unusual gesture. Usually, a head of state would have an ambassador come to him.
The pope spent about half an hour at the embassy.
Although the embassy told Catholic News Service it had no statement, Ambassador Aleksandr Avdeyev told Russian media: “The focus of the conversation was the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.
Pope Francis expressed great concern for the situation of the entire population, both in the Donbas (in Eastern Ukraine) and in other areas, and called for the protection of children, the protection of the sick and suffering, the protection of people.”
According to the pope, “this is the main Christian goal,” Avdeev told the government-owned RIA Novosti news agency.
“Donbas” refers to Ukraine’s regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russian-backed separatists have been waging war against Ukrainian troops since 2014, killing and maiming thousands and forcing more than 1.5 million people to flee.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the two regions Feb. 21, setting up what many in the West saw as a pretext to invade Ukraine to defend those regions.
In the early hours of Feb. 24, the Russian assault on Ukraine began.
In a statement after the pope’s embassy visit, the Ukrainian Catholic Church said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych “hopes the meeting represents a further push for dialogue to prevail over force. The Ukrainian people, who are defending themselves courageously, cry to the world, ‘Stop the war!’”
After the fighting began, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, released a video message insisting it was not too late to stop the fighting and it was not too late for diplomacy “to safeguard the legitimate aspirations of everyone and spare the world from the folly and horrors of war.”
Pope Francis stated shortly before the invasion: “My heart aches greatly at the worsening situation in Ukraine. Despite the diplomatic efforts of the last few weeks, increasingly alarming scenarios are opening up.”
Promise of assistance
Later that day, Pope Francis phoned the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, offering his encouragement and promising, “I will do everything I can” to help.
The pope called Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, major archbishop of the Eastern-rite Church, late in the afternoon Feb. 25, according to the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s press office in Rome.
Archbishop Shevchuk’s office said that, during the phone call, Pope Francis asked him about the situation in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine on the second full day of the Russian attack.
According to multiple news reports, Russian troops were advancing on the capital, Kyiv, where the archbishop has remained.
Pope Francis asked about the bishops and priests in the areas of heaviest fighting, the Ukrainian Catholic press office said. And he thanked the Church for its closeness to the people.
“In particular, the pope praised the decision to remain with the people and to be at the service of the neediest,” including by opening the basement of Resurrection Cathedral in Kyiv as a bomb shelter, which already was being used by dozens of people, including families with children.
“Slava Isusu Chrystu”
Pope Francis told a crowd on Feb. 27 that his heart was “broken” by the war in Ukraine, and he pleaded again, “Silence the weapons!”
“Many times, we prayed that this path would not be taken,” he told people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the midday recitation of the Angelus prayer.
But rather than giving up, he said, “we beg God more intensely.”
With many of the people in the square holding Ukrainian flags, Pope Francis greeted them the way they traditionally greet each other, “Slava Isusu Chrystu,” meaning, “Glory to Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis has continued to personally express his concern about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to appeal for peace. The previous evening, he phoned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The Ukrainian Embassy to the Holy See tweeted, “The Holy Father expressed his deepest sorrow for the tragic events happening in our country.”
Zelenskyy tweeted that he had thanked Pope Francis “for praying for peace in Ukraine and a cease-fire. The Ukrainian people feel the spiritual support of His Holiness.”
This article incorporates information from several Catholic News Service reports.