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ROME – Next week 150 representatives of different Catholic and social organizations in Italy will travel to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to march for peace as part of a non-violence response to the ongoing war with Russia.
In total, around 35 different movements and associations will be represented at the march, including the large youth movement Catholic Action.
As part of the lead-up to Monday’s march, a vigil will be held the night before in which around 500 people will gather in 15 prominent squares in Italy and across Europe, including one in London. They will be connected with Kyiv via live feed to participate in the demonstration and voice their support for Ukrainian civil society.
Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, and the city’s vice mayor will be present alongside the Vatican’s nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, to officially welcome the group.
The group will depart July 9 and will stay the night in Krakow. On Sunday, July 10, they will travel to the Polish village of Medyka and cross the border into Ukraine on foot before making their way to Kyiv. The next day, they will hold a peaceful protest of the war culminating in a March for Peace. The group will return to Poland on Tuesday, and from there will make their way back to Italy.
Officially in its fifth month, the war in Ukraine began with Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of several Ukrainian cities. Although fighting has mostly been localized to Ukraine’s eastern regions, the war has caused significant civilian casualties and has forced millions from their homes who are now living either abroad as refugees, or who are internally displaced.
Riccardo Bonacina, founder of the Vita news site and a promoter of the Project MEAN (European Movement of Nonviolent Action), is among the organizers of next week’s march.
Speaking to SIR, the official news agency of the Italian bishops, Bonacina said that going to Kyiv for the march is making a statement that “We are all Ukrainians, and we are all Europeans. We are here with you and we bring our bodies to tell you that, even taking personal risks.”
“We cannot have more because of security,” he said, referring to the fact that only 150 people are traveling for the event. However, the march, he said, is “an initiative born from the first days of the war.”
Speaking of the MEAN organization’s commitment to nonviolence, Bonacina said, “At the beginning, when we spoke about peace and the need to get out of the logic of war, they told us: ‘Bring us your weapons and help us protect our people who are fleeing.’”
“In the course of these two months, the idea has emerged that non-violence is a different type of weapon, of ‘mass construction,’” he said.
Bonacina said members of MEAN met in June to discuss the march with a handful of Ukrainian organizations, including the municipality of Kyiv.
Referring to Ukraine’s armed resistance to Russian forces, Bonacina said those who are attending the march are going “without judging what they are doing, indeed we understand it, but we go with the idea of working for peace as another way of resistance.”
What they hope to promote, he said, is “a future to be built outside the logic of armed opposition.”
The choice of July 11 for the march is significant, he said, as it falls on the Catholic feast of St. Benedict, who is the patron of Europe. It is also the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, also known as the Srebrenica genocide, in which 8,000 Muslim boys and men were killed in 1995 during the Bosnian War.
The date, Bonacina said, “is therefore a day of hope but also the day of a recent historical failure.”
War, he said, “feeds the binary scheme of friend/enemy, good/bad, weapons/not weapons and gradually draws a world without the possibility of agreement, indeed it increases even (hatred).”
“We decided that it was important to give a sign to get out of this logic by looking for thoughts and relationships in which an understanding is at least desirable,” he said, saying Ukrainians themselves “are tired of war.”
Though a ceasefire is unlikely to happen anytime soon, he said that in order to look to the future, “we must try to enter another logic and understand together what the alternative way can be.”
Asked how a strategy of nonviolence can be promoted when there is a “good guys vs bad guys” mentality driving the conflict, Bonacina said nonviolence contradicts that approach “by embracing the attacked, helping them, supporting them, rescuing them, but also triggering logics that can be a little beyond armed resistance.”
Describing those who will participate in the march as “concrete pacifists,” Bonacina insisted that Ukraine “is neither the stage for our reasoning nor for our feelings.”
“We don’t go to Ukraine to say we are good and peaceful. We are going there to embrace the Ukrainian people and to help them,” he said.
Ukrainians, he said, “want to truly feel that they are part of Europe. They therefore need Europeans to go there.”
Asked why no march was being planned in Russia, Bonacina said the situation is complicated, and pointed to arrests that have been made of high-profile figures opposed to the war.
“From an authoritarian regime they have come to a totalitarian regime. It’s complicated,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen