In Ukraine, Churches confront fearsome suffering

In Ukraine, Churches confront fearsome suffering

Military chaplaincy in eastern Ukraine, 2015. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.
Military chaplaincy in eastern Ukraine, 2015. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.

.- Bishop Bronislaw Bernacki of Odessa-Simferopol was stunned by the Russian annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine.

“No one expected that another war would be carried out on European soil in this day and age,” the Roman Catholic prelate told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in March.

The annexation has literally ripped apart his diocese, which was only established in 2002. Bishop Bernacki is taking care of those Catholics living in that part of the diocese that still belongs to Ukraine, the region of Odesa on the Black Sea. Auxiliary Bishop Jacek Pyl has remained in Simferopol on the Crimean Peninsula and takes care of the faithful there.

The effects of the war are palpable in Zaporizhia, not far from the combat zone in eastern Ukraine, reports Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia. He reported that the number of refugees from the contested region around Luhansk and Donetsk is constantly growing. In Zaporizhia alone the number has risen to 75,000 people.

The Church operates a soup kitchen set up by the Albertine Order that serves refugees on a daily basis. Women with children receive additional aid once a week; but men are left empty-handed, simply because there is nothing more to distribute at the present time.

Suffering and hardship are also the lot of the faithful shepherded by Greek-Catholic Bishop Jaroslav Pryriz of the Eparchy of Sambir-Drohobyc, in western Ukraine. Twenty priests provide pastoral care of soldiers, mostly young men: volunteers as well as Ukrainian conscripts.

The bishop told Aid to the Church in Need that his priests “rotate every 45 days, because no one can stand it there any longer. Some who return never want to go back again because the psychological strain is just enormous. However, they go back because they want to take care of the faithful.”

“No matter whether they are Catholics, Orthodox, or members of other faiths, they are all are happy when a priest is just simply there for them, even though some have never even heard of God,” Bishop Pryriz added.

The bishop also reported on the situation in Kyiv: “Wounded soldiers from the east are being cared for at a temporary military hospital set up in the Greek-Catholic cathedral in Kyiv. Never before have I seen so much suffering, sorrow and tragedy. I am 53 years-old and have never experienced war, but what I am seeing now – people without hands, without legs, without eyes, ears – will haunt me forever.”

The prelate continued: “Many soldiers from our diocese have been killed. Either they have simply disappeared or no one knows anything about their whereabouts. We have been told that a number of them have been burned to death. Or they return in coffins. You cannot imagine it. There is so much sorrow over sons, fathers, husbands!”

Bishop Bernacki spoke for all his brother bishops and priests, saying, “We need peace and an end to the bloodshed. Christians in the East and West are celebrating Lent. I would like to invite all to pray for peace, because we can only overcome evil with good.”

Reinhard Backes writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.  www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS);  www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)