The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on Tuesday deplored the deaths of women and children amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while calling on Ukrainians to pray for their enemies.
In a video message recorded in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on March 1, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said that as the sun rose on the sixth day of the conflict, the scale of the devastation was apparent.
“We saw destroyed schools, kindergartens, cinemas, museums, and at sunrise near Kyiv, a rocket struck the maternity ward of a hospital,” he said.
“We ask ourselves ‘why?’ Women and unborn children. Why are they the innocent victims of this war?”
Later on Tuesday, the major archbishop released a video purporting to show the suffering of children amid heavy fighting. The two-minute video showed a mother weeping as medics unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate her daughter, doctors seeking to revive another lifeless child with a defibrillator, and a youngster lying dead on a floor covered temporarily by a sheet of cardboard.
The video also included images of weeping children taking refuge in underground shelters, as well as women giving birth in temporary accommodation. (Here is a link to the video. Please be aware that the content is graphic.)
The Secretariat of the Major Archbishop in Rome, which distributed the video, said: “The sad toll is getting worse every day: so far 16 children have been killed and 45 injured; thousands are forced to flee their homes, sleep in subways and underground shelters.”
The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, said on Feb. 28 that it would open an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine.
In his message, Shevchuk paid tribute to what he called “the heroism of our simple people.”
He said that on Feb. 28, “the residents of the city of Berdyansk [in southeastern Ukraine] with bare hands cast out an army bearing weapons with the slogan ‘Berdyansk is Ukraine!’ And above the city hall, the Ukrainian flag was left to wave.”
He commented: “Truly, the words of Christ are being fulfilled: ‘No one has greater love than this: that someone would lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).”
“We see that not hatred, but love conquers. Love gives birth to heroes, but hatred to criminals.”
He went on: “That is why I encourage all of us: let us learn to love in this tragic time. Let us not be taken captive by hatred. Let us not use the language of hatred, nor its words. As ancient wisdom says, the one who hates the enemy is already overcome by him.”
“We will conquer with the power of love, for our homeland, for God, and for our neighbor.”
Later on March 1, Russia’s defense ministry urged residents to leave Kyiv, saying that its forces were preparing to launch “high-precision strikes.”
An airstrike hit Kyiv’s main television tower, damaging the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial, which marks a mass grave containing the remains of more than 33,000 Jews who were murdered at the site in 1941 by Nazi German forces in one of the largest massacres of World War II.
The Secretariat of the Major Archbishop in Rome also issued a statement on March 1 saying that it had received information that the Russian military planned to launch an airstrike on Saint Sophia Cathedral, one of Kyiv’s best-known landmarks. The 11th-century cathedral is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
It said that Shevchuk called “upon all Christians to pray for the protection of this holy site of all Slavic peoples and calls upon the aggressor to refrain from this most horrific act of vandalism.”
It quoted Shevchuk as saying: “May Saint Sophia — the Wisdom of God — illumine those who have considered committing this crime.”
The statement was echoed by the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), which said that it was “absolutely possible that Russian missiles will hit the Saint Sophia Cathedral due to technical defects in weapon systems.”
Shevchuk, who has led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church since 2011, encouraged his flock to heed Pope Francis’ call to fast and pray for peace in Ukraine on March 2, Ash Wednesday.
“I sincerely ask you: let us pray not only for peace in Ukraine, but let us pray for our enemies, for their conversion, for the conversion of Russia, as Our Lady of Fatima requested of us,” the 51-year-old said.
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