- Ukrainians continue to celebrate Mass and the sacraments on the streets, in the bunkers and shelters, doing their best to bring to their fearful people the love and compassion of Christ
- It is heartening that there has already been such an outpouring of prayer and charity and solidarity from Ireland towards the people of Ukraine
- The Gospel is calling on us to open up our hearts and our homes to refugees coming to Ireland
- May all Christians of Europe, including Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church, unite in support of a ceasefire, humanitarian outreach and the immediate laying down of weapons.
- A special Church collection will be taken up at all Masses across Ireland on the weekend of Sunday 27 March
- We know in Ireland how peace is built and sustained not only by words, but also by our actions and our attitudes to others
- The UK government must be more generous in its response to the refugee crisis and there needs to be urgent cross-border cooperation to ensure that bureaucracy does not get in the way of hospitality
Amongst all the harrowing images which has been emerging from Ukraine in recent days, a particular photograph struck me forcefully. It shows a group of men carrying the heavy figure of the crucified Christ out of the Armenian cathedral in Lviv to protect it from any bombardment. The scene looks like something from the stations of the cross – the precious life-size figure of Jesus is taken down from the wooden cross and carried down into the bunker for safekeeping – a bunker where countless Ukrainians are already sheltering for safety – Jesus among his suffering people.
Two weeks ago I called the office of His Beatitude Archbishop Shevchuk – the Ukrainian Greek Catholic archbishop of Kyev, and Archbishop Mokrzycki in Lviv. I wanted to assure them that the thoughts and prayers of the people of Ireland are with them and their people in the midst of the horrific turmoil that is impacting their country. They are continuing to celebrate Mass and the sacraments on the streets and in the bunkers and shelters, doing their best to bring to their fearful people the love and compassion of Christ.
We simply couldn’t celebrate the feast of our patron Saint Patrick this year without reaching out in thought and in prayer to the people of Ukraine – those who share this island with us, and their families and friends who are trapped in the horror of destruction and bloodshed at home. We also acknowledge the many Russian people here and in their homeland who bear no responsibility for this heartbreaking situation and who share our desire for peace and an end to this terrible violence. Although we are many miles away from the horrific bombardment and loss of life, the sacrifice of the Ukrainian people is coming home to us in a shocking manner. Christians and all people of goodwill here in Ireland are instinctively reaching out in compassion and prayerful solidarity to them. We join our small Lenten sacrifices with their immense suffering.
The crucified Christ is down in the bunker and out on the streets, suffering with his people. And he walks with the millions who are being displaced from their homes, leaving behind their belongings and seeking refuge wherever it is safe.
We commend them all to the intercession of Saint Patrick today – Patrick who at a young age was captured and trafficked to these shores, no doubt frightened, disoriented, distressed and fearful for his life. In the opening words of his Confession, our patron saint describes how he and others “were scattered among many nations”.
It is heartening that there has already been such an outpouring of prayer and charity and solidarity from Ireland towards the people of Ukraine – so many spiritual and corporal works of mercy in response to this huge humanitarian crisis. Many parish communities have already established active links with charitable projects in Ukraine, and along its borders, to support refugees and those remaining in their homeland. A special collection be taken up at all Masses across Ireland on the weekend of Sunday 27 March. People are also invited to support the charitable initiatives of Aid to the Church in Need, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and Trócaire which is responding to the crisis through its partners Caritas Ukraine and Caritas Poland.
As tens of thousands of refugees arrive in Ireland in the near future, the Gospel is calling on us to open up to them our hearts and our homes. We pray that this land of welcomes will offer a compassionate welcome here to our brothers and sisters in their need, and that many in our parish communities will pledge a space in their homes or other suitable accommodation. I encourage our parish pastoral and finance councils in the coming weeks to consider whether there may be suitable spaces available in our parishes that could be pledged. To that end I join in calls to the UK government to be more generous in its response to the refugee crisis and also for urgent cross-border cooperation here on the island of Ireland to ensure that bureaucracy does not get in the way of hospitality and welcome for traumatised people searching for respite in Northern Ireland.
In face of great danger and peril to his life, tradition tells us that Saint Patrick prayed what is known as his Breastplate prayer –
Christ with me; Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me.
For all those the people of Ukraine we pray with Saint Patrick today:
Christ on your right, Christ on your left, Christ when you lie down, Christ when you arise; Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of you, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of you, Christ in every eye that sees you, Christ in every ear that hears you.
Let us appeal through our prayers this Saint Patrick’s Day for an end to this pointless massacre and pulverising of the property, bodies and spirit of the Ukrainian people. May all Christians of Europe, including Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church, unite in daily spiritual and practical efforts in support of a ceasefire, humanitarian outreach and the immediate laying down of weapons.
One thing which the terror in Ukraine is teaching us is that we can never take peace for granted. We must always work for peace, pray for peace and make sacrifices for peace. We know here in Ireland how peace is built and sustained not only by words, but also by our actions and our attitudes to others. We choose in our daily lives to sow peace or conflict, love or hate, to build up, or to tear down, to heal or to hurt, to forgive or to resent, to soothe or to inflame.
It is poignant to think that as the world comes out of a global pandemic which reminded us so strongly of our connectedness and interdependence, that our continent has so easily lapsed into the pointless divisions and devastation of warfare. War represents the failure of politics, politics and dialogue. I’m reminded of the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, that ‘war is always a defeat for humanity’, and of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti, that “the first casualty of war is the human family’s innate vocation to fraternity” FT26
Saint Patrick, traumatised by his own experience of captivity and forced displacement from his home, became a reconciler, able to bring the unity and harmony of faith to our country. I trust that our reflection on Ukraine will help us learn lessons for our own peace process, about the importance of never taking our progress in peace for granted, never giving up on dialogue and the building of bridges and mutual understanding across historical divides. The tragedy of what we are witnessing in Ukraine during these days impels us again here in Ireland to work for a genuine human fraternity as the only way to resolve differences and conflicts.
Prayer for the People of Ukraine
We pray for the people of Ukraine,
For all those suffering or afraid,
that you will be close to them and protect them.
We pray for world leaders,
for compassion, strength and wisdom to guide their choices.
We pray for the world; that in this moment of crisis, we may reach out in solidarity to our brothers and sisters in need.
May we walk in your ways
so that peace and justice
become a reality for the people of Ukraine and for all the world.
Saint Patrick, pray for us!
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us!
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!
Our Lady of Kyiv, pray for us!
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
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