Missionary priest in Ukraine says prayer, solidarity are important weapons


ROME – Although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking for weapons and other military support for his country to help stop a Russian invasion, one Catholic priest says the world can’t forget to pray for Ukraine.

“The most important thing we need now is support through prayer,” said Father Anthony Vatseba. “Secondly, we ask all people of goodwill not to be indifferent and to bear witness to the truth. We must not be afraid to speak the truth about the brutal attack of the Russian army on Ukraine.”

A priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Vatseba is also the provincial of the Congregation of the Incarnate Word (IVE) in Ukraine, which was founded in Argentina. They have thirteen priests and sixty religious sisters in Ukraine. 

Their main house is in the city of Ivano-Frankivs’k, but Vatseba also serves as a parish priest in Vinnystisia, in west-central Ukraine, some 230 miles away.

“The situation at the moment in Vinnytsia is quite calm, generally without missiles and shooting, although the first three days from February 24-26 the situation was quite tense because of the missiles that fell on the airport,” he told Crux. “We continue to celebrate Holy Mass twice a day, and at night, during curfew, we welcome refugees sleeping in our parish church facilities.”

The IVE also has a community of priests in Donbas, where the fighting is intense. In an attempt to stay safe, they have left the city to live on the outskirts of the area. They too celebrate Holy Mass daily in the local church, and risk their lives by returning to the city’s center on Saturdays and Sundays to celebrate Mass and hear confessions.

The situation is not easy in southern Ukraine, near the Crimean peninsula. There, in fact, Russian troops have besieged almost the entire Kherson region. The biggest problem in this area is that it is not possible to get humanitarian aid to the towns and villages of Donbas and Kherson, Vatseba said. 

“The lack of food, telephone communication and, in some towns, of light, water and heating, can lead to a terrible humanitarian disaster,” he warned. “However, our fathers in southern Ukraine are safe and in a place where there have been no attacks. They are able to celebrate daily Mass and support their parishioners both prayerfully and morally.”

The remaining three communities the IVE has are in western Ukraine, and their job now is receiving refugees and coordinating the collection and shipment of humanitarian aid to central and eastern Ukraine.

“Human pain, especially for us Christians, cannot be alien to us because of remoteness,” he said, trying to garner a response from those who think the conflict doesn’t involve them.

“In the Holy Scripture we find the words of the Lord when He addresses Cain after he had killed his brother Abel: ‘What have you done? Your brother’s blood is heard crying to me from the ground’,” Vatseba said. 

“The Ukrainian people are now unjustly suffering from Russia’s violent and unmerited attack,” the priest said. “And we Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ, must be the voice of the blood of the murdered military and civilians, of the simple people of the cities and villages, of the children, of the elderly. A voice that must cry out to God from the ground because of the injustice and violence that Ukraine is now suffering. After two weeks of war, already more than 3,000 civilians have been killed, not counting our dead soldiers.”

Hence his appeal to all those who are outside Ukraine to become “the voice of the blood and suffering of the Ukrainian people to the world.”

Words, he said, have great power, and as such, “I ask you: Do not remain silent! Do not give in to this falsehood that justifies Russia’s war against Ukraine for eight years now. Nothing can justify violence, and even less, the ideology that hides behind supposed ‘Christian values’.” 

Nothing can justify the murder of man who is created in the image and likeness of God, Vatseba said. He then quoted Pope Francis, who on the eve of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine said, “How sad it is when people and peoples proud of being Christians see others as enemies and plot wars!”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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