American Catholics stand with Ukraine, one year after Russian full-scale invasion

A Ukrainian flag is displayed during an ecumenical prayer service for peace in Ukraine at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City Feb. 18, 2023. The service was held six days in advance of the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

(OSV News) -- Catholics throughout the U.S. are standing in solidarity with Ukraine, as that nation marks the first anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion.

In a Feb. 22 statement, Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged the faithful and other people of goodwill to set aside Feb. 24 -- the day in 2022 on which Russian forces poured into Ukraine after a months-long buildup at the border -- "as a solemn day of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, beseeching the Lord to bring an end to the fighting and a return to justice and peace in Ukraine."

U.S. President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, paid a surprise five-hour visit to Kyiv Feb. 20, meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and walking to key sites in the city as air raid sirens sounded.

"One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you," Biden said in the presence of reporters. He assured Zelenskyy the U.S. would support Ukraine "for as long as it takes."

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of Philadelphia, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S., told participants at a Feb. 18 ecumenical prayer service in New York that "everywhere (he) went" during a recent trip to Ukraine, "people thanked Americans" for their generous aid and advocacy over the past year.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, Catholic Charities USA president and CEO, who accompanied Archbishop Gudziak on the trip, said she had been "deeply moved by the extraordinary resilience, fierce patriotism and enduring faith" of Ukrainians amid "scenes of incomprehensible suffering and immense trauma."

As of November 2022, the Humanitarian Aid Fund of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America had donated a total of more than $8.3 million in assistance to Ukraine, with $7.3 million in humanitarian aid and over $1 million for rebuilding efforts.

During 2022, the New York-based office of Aid to the Church in Need sent $10 million in aid to Ukraine funding 290 projects, director of communications Joop Koopman told OSV News.

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly of the Knights of Columbus -- in announcing Feb. 16 that organization's new documentary "In Solidarity with Ukraine" -- said he and his fellow Knights pledged to continue their aid to Ukraine.

"Our message to internally displaced persons in Ukraine and refugees in Poland is one of solidarity, gratitude and a commitment of continued support," said Kelly. "Knights in Poland and Ukraine are committed to meeting the long-term needs of the people and communities most impacted by this devastating conflict. This is why I can say with confidence to the Ukrainians: 'You're not alone.' This is why I can promise we'll be there for as long as it takes."

To date, the Knights have raised more than $20 million to support humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine, while distributing over 3.2 million pounds of food to those affected by the war, which continues attacks launched by Russia in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the backing of separatist factions in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

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

Since the February 2022 invasion, 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 death toll is likely much 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 U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than 16,200 Ukrainian children have been abducted by Russia, according to Ukraine's government. With some 66,000 war crimes reported, Ukraine has filed charges of genocide by Russia with the International Court of Justice.

Catholic Relief Services said in a Feb. 23 statement that it "continues to respond and adapt to the needs in the region," noting that "as the war enters its second year, the needs of Ukrainians inside the country and in Europe are growing."

"Whenever there is a crisis, no matter how big or small, the church is there, ready to support people when they need it," Davide Bernocchi, CRS' country representative for Moldova and Ukraine, said. "They are already in these communities and are trusted. People know they can turn to them for a place to stay or a hot meal."

The New York- based Catholic Near East Welfare Association said in a Feb. 21 message on its website that it had provided $5.8 million in emergency funds to support church-led relief efforts in Ukraine and surrounding countries hosting Ukrainian refugees, among them Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Moldova and Georgia.

CNEWA president Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari said Ukrainians' "lives have been shattered by an all-out assault on their nation, their way of life and their identity."

The University of Notre Dame, which has had a two-decade partnership with Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, hosted a Feb. 23 commemoration of Russia's full-scale invasion. Following a speaking program, participants joined in a candlelit walk to the school's Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, where university president Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins led a prayer service for peace in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Catholic Father Mark Morozowich, dean of theology and religious studies at The Catholic University of America, said in a Feb. 23 reflection that "the importance of prayer cannot be overstated" in supporting Ukraine.

"We as priests of the Ukrainian Catholic Church ask everyone to please pray for those who are suffering, and to truly pray for conversion of heart of all involved," Father Robert Hitchens, rector of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Washington, told OSV News. "We try to work toward peace, but a peace where the people of Ukraine are able to live in freedom and dignity in their country."

Sisters of St. Basil Joann Sosler and Dorothy Ann Busowksi told OSV News their order's Jesus, Lover of Humanity Province -- of which Sister Joann is superior -- had coordinated "about eight shipments" of humanitarian aid to Ukraine for distribution by their fellow sisters there.

The efforts are evidence of a "steely determination to defend God-given human dignity," Archbishop Gudziak told OSV News. "And now is the time to ramp up support and clearly defeat this attack against democracy and freedom."



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