Top Vatican official calls Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘unjustified’ and ‘senseless’

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ROME – Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the head of the Vatican’s office for Eastern Churches, called Russia’s military action against Ukraine an “unjustified invasion” and a “senseless war.”

Sandri also phoned Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Greek Ukrainian Catholic Church, and said he was able to “feel the tears” of the Ukrainians, those “who are fleeing, suffering from bombings, suffering the separations and carrying in their hearts immense, invincible pain of mothers, fathers, soldiers, children” who have been forced to leave their country.

Seeing the pain and devastation, he said, “our only weapon is to pray” in the face of “so much shame for humanity.”

Sandri’s words came as he led a prayer for peace in Ukraine in the Cathedral of Saints Sergius and Bacchus of the Ukrainians in Rome.

In the face of this war, he said, “we do not have words, we do not have missiles, we do not have guns, we do not have tanks, we do not have the force of violence that wants to impose itself at any price.”  Rather, “we have the strength of the humility of those who receive the scorn of the world and the powerful of the earth.”

Sandri also told those gathered that “truly, Our Lady intercedes to bring peace and put an end to this abuse of power and this invincible suffering for the Ukrainian people.”

The cardinal’s thoughts also went to “many of you who must receive relatives, friends who are fleeing from this senseless, unthinkable, unimaginable, inconceivable war.”

He also expressed his closeness to the many who, on the other hand, have relatives who have not been able to flee: “The Catholic Church suffers with you and opens to you the humble arms of fraternal affection and sharing of your pain and prayer.”

At Pope Francis’s request, Ash Wednesday this year was set to be one of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine. During the homily prepared for the occasion, the pope said that “prayer, charity, and fasting,” are “weapons” that can change history and are especially needed today.

The Italian bishops are with Ukraine

Several Latin rite Catholic bishops in Italy trekked to local Ukrainian parishes to celebrate Ash Wednesday in an act of solidarity.

Among them was Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, head of the Italian bishops’ conference and archbishop of Perugia: “The war against a defenseless people made up of men, women, children, young people, the elderly, the sick – as are all the peoples of the earth – is the greatest injustice that can be perpetrated.”

According to SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops, Bassetti said Catholics stand in solidarity with all the Ukrainians who are suffering, and that “unfortunately, war spares no one; it is the most absurd and monstrous thing one can conceive of.”

“On the one hand, the fierce aggression of the Russian armies and, on the other, the desperate, dignified, courageous Ukrainian response,” he said. “People are willing to die in order to defend what is most precious to them: the lives of their loved ones and families.”

“We are with the victims of Ukraine, and it is as if those who want to annihilate Ukraine also wanted to annihilate all of us, Italians and Europeans,” Bassetti said. “I say forcefully, as archbishop of this city, Ukraine at this time is also my land, it is also my homeland to which I cannot renounce. We, as Church and as Christians, are with those who stay and make peace and do not resign themselves to the horror of war.”

Calling Pope Francis “the humblest voice there is in the church and, at the same time, the strongest,” the cardinal pointed out that he has spoken out in favor of peace in Ukraine time and time again.

A prayer marathon from bomb shelters

Responding to the pontiff’s call, a 7-hour prayer marathon was held in seven cities in Ukraine. People also paused and prayed in monasteries and churches and online wherever they were at the time, including bomb shelters, camps and reception centers along escape routes.

The initiative – organized by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – took place online and had the slogan: “Ukraine under the protection of the Mother of God.” The prayer chain connected the country from North to South and from East to West, including Kharkiv, Odessa, Hrushiv, Zarvanytsia, Goshiv, Univ and Kyiv.

“For all of us, this is a special day, because we understand that in our tragedy we are not alone,” said Shevchuk at the opening of the live broadcast in a video message.

The war and the bombs continue, he said, voicing particular concern for Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Kherson and other besieged Ukrainian cities, where “there is now a lack of food, medicine and the local population needs to be saved.”

“God, accept our fasting and our prayers,” he said. “God, unite us all, so that life may win over death and the common prayer of the whole world may bring peace to Ukraine.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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