NEW YORK – Almost seven months to the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, the top-ranking Ukrainian Greek Catholic prelate in the United States is urging continued prayers for the nation, and warning world leaders not to “play the game according to [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] rules” in their responses.
“President Putin works with fear. Fear is his instrument. Intimidation is his game and it’s important not to play the game according to his rules,” said Archbishop Borys Gudziak “I’m not a military strategist or politician, but I assure you if we pray, if we trust in the Lord, if we look at the example of martyrs of the past and these days, we will find the answers to keep moving forward.”
Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia made the comments on Sept. 21, at an evening prayer service for the victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine held in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Gudziak, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services celebrated the prayer with other church leaders and faithful in attendance.
The prayer service took place on the same day Putin warned that he will use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory; words that Gudziak called “menacing.” The Kremlin simultaneously announced that he was calling up about 300,000 reservists with previous military service to the front lines.
Speaking at the United Nations on Sept. 21, President Joe Biden accused Putin of making “irresponsible nuclear threats,” adding that a nuclear war “must never be fought.” He also stated that Russia has “shamelessly violated the core tenets” of the United Nations for its war in Ukraine, and reiterated that the United States stands against “Russia’s aggression” and encouraged other nations to follow suit.
Asked if the United States has done enough to support Ukraine, Gregory said people should be inspired by how much the country has done, and especially how much American Catholics have donated, citing Gudziak’s estimate of more than $100 million. He added, however, that “we won’t do enough until there’s peace in Ukraine, until the integrity of the country is respected, until their freedom is acknowledged.”
Gregory called the Russian invasion of Ukraine “unconscionable,” and noted that since it began on February 24, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have lost their lives with four times as many wounded; there are almost 5,900 civilian casualties and more than 8,600 injured; and over 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to abandon their homes, of whom 7.3 million are women and children who fled to other European countries for safety.
“These staggering statistics tell the tale of a horrible tragedy,” Gregory said. “Yet amid this dreadful tragedy we have seen some of the most charitable acts. It brought out the best in so many people throughout the world as they opened their homes and hearts to refugees.”
Among the prayers Gregory offered were those in solidarity with the people of Ukraine – those who mourn their dead, have been forced to join the Russian Federation, and defend their homeland. He said the prayer is in a special way for Ukrainians who lost their lives and whose families never had the opportunity to commend them in prayer to the Lord.
“The prayer that we offered this evening links us to those families and reminds us that there is really only one family, and that’s God’s family,” Gregory said. “We speak different languages, come from different cultural backgrounds, live in different regions, but we are one family and this evening in our prayer we grieved as family, but we also took great hope that no life is ever lost or ever unimportant.”
Gudziak said for those who want to donate to Ukraine cash is the best way to do so. Gudziak added, however, that prayer is what’s most important.
“There is nothing more important, there is nothing more vital, and God rewards you a hundredfold for doing what’s most important for the deceased, and the many people of Ukraine,” the archbishop said.
Gudziak has visited Ukraine four times in the last four months and said it’s sad to see the daily stream of funerals throughout the country, calling those defending the country “the cream of the crop.” He noted that the resilience of Ukrainians gives him hope.
“I haven’t heard one Ukrainian saying we have to give up and that willingness to sacrifice for the truth, for the God-given dignity of every human being I find incredibly inspiring,” Gudziak said.
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