The day before Pope Francis and the world’s Catholic bishops offer a prayer of consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a leading Ukrainian Catholic archbishop in the United States called the war in Ukraine “a transformational moment for the world.”
“Nobody expected it would last a week, and now we’re beginning the second month,” said Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
Speaking at a press briefing in St. Patrick’s Cathedral March 24 with Cardinal Dolan and other Catholic and United Nations leaders, Archbishop Gudziak framed the dire situation in Ukraine in Lenten terms. “We’re walking toward the resurrection, but we understand the resurrection itself is preceded by the cross,” he said.
The archbishop recapped some of the war’s devastating effects on the Ukrainian nation, including the displacement of 10 to 12 million people from their homes. That number includes 3.5 million refugees now in other countries, such as Poland, which has accepted 2 million. By the end of this weekend, Archbishop Gudziak said 25 million people, or almost two-thirds of Ukraine’s overall population of 41.5 million, would be “helpless” and require assistance with basic necessities of daily living.
“This is something that requires the entire world’s solidarity,” he said.
Still, there are positive signs amid the chaos of war. The response, in his office at the archeparchy, has wildly exceeded expectations. The three phone lines there never stop ringing, he said, with callers offering financial assistance and expressing willingness to take in refugees.
The archbishop rhetorically asked why the response in the United States, Europe and around the world has been so resounding. “They are seeing the greatest love. What did Jesus say, ‘There is no greater love than when one gives their life for their friends,’” he said, quoting the words of John 15:13.
As he spoke, the Ukrainian Cross of Gratitude, present in the cathedral since March 4, offered a poignant visual backdrop to his words.
The archbishop praised the assembled media, which included representatives of both Catholic and daily press, saying that communications is playing a key role in uniting the world in support of Ukraine. “Some have given their lives to bring truth to the world,” said the archbishop in a reference to media professionals killed while covering the war in Ukraine.
Archbishop Gudziak, in response to a question about overall Catholic giving to assist Ukraine and its people, gave a ballpark figure of “$50 million to $70 million.” At the conference, Msgr. Peter Vaccari, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) in Manhattan, reported that the papal agency had raised over $1 million earmarked for Ukrainian assistance. Cardinal Dolan noted that collections taken up in parishes of the archdiocese had already raised $300,000. The cardinal also said that Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly told him on his “Conversation with Cardinal Dolan” television and radio program that the Knights of Columbus have collected $2 million.
Cardinal Dolan, at the outset of the briefing, said, “I can never remember the world being so united as it is now, united with the people of Ukraine and united against the Russian atrocity.”
The cardinal later briefly detailed the Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which Pope Francis and the world’s Catholic bishops will lead March 25. He said that St. Pope John Paul II made an initial consecration in 1984, and “Pope Francis has asked that we renew that.”
Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, in his remarks, said the “Holy Father is trying to plant seeds of hope.”
The day after war broke out Feb. 24, Pope Francis took the unusual step of personally visiting the Russian Embassy to the Holy See, and he has twice spoken with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky. He also spoke about the two cardinals the pontiff sent to Ukraine.
The pope’s “first and most important goal” is that the war must stop, before talk of “possible solutions” can begin, the archbishop explained.
Archbishop Caccia pointed out the great number of Catholic institutions in Europe and across the world welcoming Ukrainian refugees. (The same day President Biden announced that the United States would accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.)
Both Archbishop Caccia and Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations, had to leave the briefing early to go to U.N. headquarters in Manhattan for a General Assembly vote on a resolution for aid to the people of Ukraine.
Before he left, Ambassador Kyslytsya said he hoped “until the last moment” that “the Russians would not do what they are doing right now.”
Responding to a question about the tenor of the United Nations at this time, the ambassador said Ukraine enjoys “exceptionally wide cross-regional support.”
Regarding the world body, he said, “You may have a beautiful, strong structure that is invaded by poisonous mold. That’s exactly what happens in the U.N. If you don’t care about the mold, remove the mold…it eats the structure.”