The faithful gathered at the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, D.C., on Friday, as Pope Francis consecrated Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“Ukraine is very devoted to Mary,” 72-year-old Luba Munter from Alexandria, Virginia, told CNA. “So if you're going to do a consecration to Mary, that would be perfect — I think a perfect solution right now.”
Munter, who has family in Ukraine, came with her husband to the shrine’s “Moleben of the Mother of God and Prayer of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” During the moleben (a service of intercession or supplication), the priest sang the consecration prayer for Ukraine and Russia at the same time that Pope Francis read it at the Vatican.
Father Andrii Chornopyskyi wore the Marian colors of blue and gold, which match the colors of the Ukraine flag. While much of the moleben was said in Ukrainian, Chornopyskyi spoke in English at a couple of points.
“Nothing is impossible for God,” he told the congregants. “It may be impossible for man. But for God, there is nothing impossible.”
He acknowledged the Russian aggression directed at Ukraine.
“Maybe we have some doubts, some thoughts like it’s impossible to win,” he said. The Virgin Mary also asked, “How can it happen?” when the angel Gabriel revealed that she would conceive Christ during the Annunciation, he said. Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, he added, miraculously became pregnant in her old age.
He pointed to the gospel for March 25 — the feast of the Annunciation, a holy day of obligation for Ukrainian Catholics — as showing God can do all things.
While just a dozen people attended, the shrine filled with song and vibrant color. Icons glimmered in the sunbeams that escaped the clouds. A giant image of Mary, Mother of God appeared above the altar, with her hands raised in prayer. The Christ Child also appeared in the image, from a circle located near his mother’s womb.
A cantor led hymns to Mary, including the Ave Maria.
“Unworthy as we are, we shall never cease to proclaim your power, O Mother of God,” he chanted at one point. “If you no longer intercede for us, who will deliver us from so many misfortunes?”
At the shrine, Luba Munter told CNA that she came to pray.
“I just watch on TV all the horrible things that are happening,” she said. “I feel very unable to do anything, so I think praying is my only way that I can help the people in Ukraine and maybe change some things that are happening in the world.”
Her family, she revealed, is originally from Ukraine. Her parents came to the U.S. as immigrants fleeing the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Now, she said, she sees the past repeating itself.
“Just watching these immigrants, it sort of hits me at home because that's what my parents did,” she urged.
Luba was born in Detroit right after World War II. But while she was born here, she says that her heart is in Ukraine.
She currently has family in western Ukraine, near Lviv. For now, she hears, they are still doing fine.
Her husband, Joe, added that “it's very unfortunate what's going on there and very sad people want to invoke their will on a country that just wants to be free.”
The 74 year old told CNA that he came to the shrine “first to support my wife.”
“I'm not Ukrainian,” he said, “but we've had a very close family since we were married almost 50 years ago and Ukrainian culture has become my culture.”
He also came, he said, to support the courageous people of Ukraine.
Luba highlighted that the consecration was not only for Ukraine, but also for Russia: “I think that that's also important to stress, that hopefully there will be conversion there.”
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Katie Yoder is a correspondent in CNA's Washington, D.C. bureau. She covers pro-life issues, the U.S. Catholic bishops, public policy, and Congress. She previously worked for Townhall.com, National Review, and the Media Research Center.