Today Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, Pope Francis’s right-hand man for charitable activity, leaves Rome and heads to Kyiv in a second ambulance donated by the Vatican. He will spend the Holy Week and Easter in the war-torn capital of Ukraine “as a sign of closeness of the Holy Father to the suffering nation,” Krajewski told Crux.
The ambulance will be handed over to one of Kyiv’s hospitals on Holy Thursday.
“We will be washing the feet of the most needy and all those who suffer in Ukraine now,” Krajewski told Crux, adding that “for Holy Week Pope Francis wants me to be in the place most marked by suffering.”
Welcoming Krajewski in Kyiv will be Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, papal ambassador to Ukraine and a man who spent nearly a month sheltering from bombs.
“From the beginning, when the pope decided to send Cardinals Krajewski and [Michael] Czerny to Ukraine and its borders, I felt it is not only words of support, but also support in physical presence, as well as a spiritual one,” Kulbokas told Crux.
“When Cardinal Krajewski came for the first time, we had an urgent need to evacuate an orphanage from Vorsel, which is near Irpin and Bucha. He told me, ‘If you can’t evacuate them, I will go,’ even if it was not realistic at the time.”
“I felt it as a huge support and determination,” Kulbokas said.
Now, Kulbokas told Crux that “it will be a fraternal moment to have the papal almoner in Kyiv, as well as an opportunity for the cardinal to experience how the capital is living at the moment.”
He said there are still curfew hours in the Ukrainian capital, and Holy Week celebrations will have to be held earlier in the day than usual.
Krajewski will take part in the celebrations during Holy Week and Easter in Kyiv’s churches.
“The plan is also to visit some places of humanitarian catastrophe. It would certainly be my desire to visit Irpin, for instance,” Kulbokas told Crux.
Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel, Ukrainian towns on the outskirts of Kyiv, made horrific headlines last week with hundreds of civilians discovered tortured and killed by Russian soldiers who were withdrawing.
“It’s unthinkable,” Kulbokas said. “When I saw the news, I cried several times. When you see people killed and girls violated, it just makes you cry – and other cities are still under siege,” he added.
Kulbokas said it made a big impact on him to see Pope Francis holding a Ukrainian flag from Bucha during the last general audience.
“It brought huge emotions to see the Holy Father with Ukrainian children holding the flag from Bucha. This is what I call diplomacy of the Holy See – you look in the eyes of those children and ask, ‘Stop the war for the sake of those children!’”
Asked about Pope Francis’s condemnation of the war without mentioning Russia, Kulbokas said: “Imagine the Pope saying publicly the same things he says privately to politicians – he would become a politician himself, but in the church we can’t risk putting ourselves in a political position.”
At the same time, Kulbokas said, the feeling of closeness of the Holy Father to the people of Ukraine is very visible: “It’s touching. The closeness is very deep and very clear.”
Commenting on the latest interview of his boss, the Vatican Secretary of State, Italian cardinal Pietro Parolin, Kulbokas said it was clearly stated that Ukraine has a right to defend itself.
“Catholic theology allows the possibility for a country to defend. I checked it with Cardinal Parolin; that’s what he said.”
It doesn’t change the fact, Kulbokas said, that “war – any war, whether it’s Afghanistan, Syria or Ukraine – is always a tragedy where people lose their lives. Any war shows that we should avoid it at any cost.”
Nevertheless, Kulbokas said, society “is unable to stop wars,” and therefore “we should not only focus on those who are responsible for this war, but look at ourselves, that we are unable to find means to stop the wars and we should find the solution.”
Regarding the general disarmament that Pope Francis recently urged, Kulbokas told Crux, “The mentality of arming starts from the diabolic logic of showing one’s power. We should not pretend that only one does that, and others don’t. This should concern the entire world. If we don’t stop arming, what will we reach? Syria, Afghanistan, Libya – we see this is not functioning! And if we see that this way of living the superpowers is not working, we should think about it.”
Kulbokas said there are also many signs of hope in the violent reality of the war in Ukraine.
“One lady told me her sister did not pray the rosary for 15 years, and now she started again,” he said.
He also recalled a man who converted during the war: “He said he had a dream where Jesus asked him, ‘Are you with me or against me?’ In this moment, the man realized that while he is a victim of the aggressor, he is at the same time the same person that he was, and he understood that this is a moment when he should change to be a better man. That’s a true conversion.”