Dozens of worshipers from across the region – and around the world – recently gathered to pray for the people of Ukraine, now in the fourth month of a brutal Russian invasion that has killed thousands, displaced some 14 million people and threatened the world’s food supply.
Sponsored by the Archdiocesan Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR), the online “Pilgrimage Novena for World Peace”, held from May 27 to June 4, attracted participants from Philadelphia area as well as New York, the Philippines and Africa for nightly recitations of the rosary.
The Marian devotion was accompanied by images and reflections on key sites of the worst atrocities of the war to date – a format similar to that of an April 3 “Stations of the Cross for Ukraine” coordinated by the director of the PCMR and nun of the Assumption Gertrude Borres and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who again partnered to present the Pilgrimage Novena.
In addition to members of the local Ukrainian Catholic community, participants included Filipino Alumni of the Assumption Abroad, Filipino Prayer Group FIAT, St. Agatha-St. James Parish (Philadelphia) Young Adult Group, the African Catholic Young Adult Group, and the Religious Sisters of the Assumption communities of West Philadelphia and Worcester, Mass., as well as the Archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry and the Office of the new evangelization.
The novena ended with an in-person prayer service on Pentecost Sunday (June 5) at the parish of Saint-François de Sales, with songs from the French community of Taizé, itself founded in the middle of the Second World War. world.
“One of the most beautiful gifts of the Holy Spirit…is peace,” said Father Volodymyr Radko of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia in his opening address for the service. “We pray for peace – above all, peace in our hearts, (since) without it we cannot have peace with anyone else.”
Ordained in his native Ukraine just days before the February 24 Russian invasion, Father Radko spent the first 25 days of the war ministering in the western city of Lviv before returning to Philadelphia.
During the May 31 novena session, which coincided with the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Father Radko discussed Russia’s relentless assaults on Mariupol, which included the bombing of a maternity ward and of a theater – marked with the Russian word for “children”. – where hundreds of civilians were sheltering.
Explaining that Mariupol means “city of Mary”, he said such actions show “more completely how crazy our enemy is”.
The Russian siege of this city (which hundreds of Ukrainian fighters resisted for weeks), as well as the serious humanitarian crisis triggered by the assaults, have come to illustrate the barbarity of war, said Father Radko.
“Every time (Russia) accepted that civilians could leave the city, or that humanitarian aid could be brought to the city, they started shelling,” he said. “The only exit from the city was to Russia.”
The city’s horrific suffering has made Mariupol “very close to us, very dear to our hearts”, he said.
Such angst compounds a long history of Russian attacks on Ukraine. The latest invasion continues the assaults launched by Russia in 2014, with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the support of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The latest round of attacks has been marked by particularly horrific violence against civilians, prompting multinational calls for war crimes investigations. May 26 report published by the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights concluded that Russia had violated the 1948 Genocide Convention, “triggering the obligation of states to prevent” genocide under the Article I of this document, the authors said.
Both the Russian Federation and the United States are signatories to the convention, as well as to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. Under this agreement, Ukraine voluntarily relinquished its nuclear arsenal – the third largest in the world the time – while the United States, Russia and Britain pledged “to respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or recourse to force” against Ukraine.
The sufferings of this nation are “a symbol of the way of the cross”, said Father Radko.
At the same time, “we have hope in the Resurrection, and we expect it,” he said. “We are expecting these days, once again, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
The novena and the Taizé service were a way of preparing for this renewal, even in the midst of the bewildering ferocity of war, he added.
“Don’t be discouraged,” Father Radko said. “Your prayers are answered. Ukraine is still standing, even today.