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ROME – After the spate of Russian bombings in various cities across Ukraine Monday, church leaders in the country have called for peace and international support, but said the people are more determined than ever.
In a statement Tuesday, the pan-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations condemned the Russian missile offensive against Ukraine, saying the “terroristic attacks” throughout the country held the goal “of intimidating our people.”
“All those who participate in these brutal attacks on peaceful cities, both the leaders who give the orders and the direct executors, as well as all those who justify acts of inhuman cruelty, must know that they must respond before the Most High and will be punished for their crimes,” the council said.
The council voiced its support for those who suffered as a result of the attacks and offered prayers for the victims, asking God “to bless our defenders.”
They also appealed to the international community and to religious leaders of the world, asking them to “condemn the state terror committed by Russia,” saying, “the terrorist state must be stopped as soon as possible!”
At least 19 people were killed and over a hundred more injured Monday when Russia launched missile strikes on several cities after the partial destruction on Saturday of a key bridge linking Russia to the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
The strikes, which hit the center of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv for the first time in months, hit non-military targets, including a university and a children’s playground.
Widely condemned by the international community, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres and United States President Joe Biden, the strikes, in addition to Kyiv, hit the cities of Lviv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia, and were some of the worst Ukraine has seen for months. According to Ukrainian officials, Russia launched 83 missiles, more than 43 of which were shot down.
Several regions were left without electricity or water because of the strikes.
In a video following the attacks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy defiantly said that “Ukraine cannot be intimidated. It can only be more united.”
Although not linked to Monday’s missile attacks, the Vatican Tuesday announced that Pope Francis, who last Sunday issued a searing condemnation of the war and personal appeals to both Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is scheduled to participate in an Oct. 25 event promoting peace.
Titled, “The Cry for Peace,” the event is organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio and will take place at the Colosseum in Rome, drawing the participation of leaders of other major world religions to pray for peace.
This week, delegates from the bishops’ conferences of the European Union will gather for their fall plenary assembly in Brussels, Oct. 12-14. They will hold an “in-depth discussion” on the socio-economic and geopolitical implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with a particular emphasis on the energy crisis.
According to a statement from the Commission for the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), the plenary will include meetings with current and former EU officials, and will analyze the various implications of the war, “shaping future COMECE contributions to EU policies promoting peace and justice in Europe and the world.”
Discussion will touch on the current energy crisis, socio-economic and geopolitical tensions, the refugee crisis, particularly regarding the millions of Ukrainians who have fled their homes, and the impact of inflation on the poor.
Other church leaders have spoken out after Monday’s missile attacks, praising the resilience of the Ukrainian people while urging prayers for peace.
In an interview with SIR, the official news agency of the Italian bishops, Oleksandr Yazlovetskiy, auxiliary bishop of Kyiv, said people Tuesday morning were “bewildered and disoriented,” not knowing whether to stay at home, or go to work “at the risk of the subway coming to a halt.”
“There is confusion. Yesterday shook everyone,” he said, but stressed that whatever the motive was for the strikes, “everyone is very courageous. No one shows signs of abating. Nobody said, ‘Let’s let the Russians enter because we are afraid.’ Everyone does what they have to do and moves on.”
Yazlovetskiy said the people are psychologically stronger and “more courageous, more patriotic, with more love for our land” than when the war began Feb. 24, because they have gotten used to the fighting, but he also urged prayer and asked for support from the international community.
In a letter sent to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Vitaliy Krivitskiy, the Latin Rite Catholic bishop of Kyiv–Zhytomyr, said God is bringing unexpected blessings out of suffering, and praised the support that faithful are giving to their priests despite their own hardship.
“Although the war is shattering people’s already precarious sense of security, the cross that men and women carry is also having surprising effects,” he said, noting that many people, “driven by the drama you know, reflect on the meaning of their lives and draw closer to the faith.”
“Once again the Lord makes good out of evil,” Krivitskiy said, and pointed to the sacrifice that many people are making “despite their modest pensions” to support their pastors, “who are engaged on another front of the war, that of healing spiritual and human wounds.”
In an interview with Vatican News, the official news platform of Vatican City State, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Vatican’s envoy to Ukraine, said that while people are now used to the war, “it hurts, because with every missile, with every bomb people die, in addition to other damage.”
He stressed the need to up spiritual efforts, especially in October, which is observed in the Catholic Church as the month dedicated to the rosary, saying, “the only weapon we have left is that of God and Our Lady.”
“In the month of October, we entrust ourselves to the Virgin Mary who intercedes for us, who asks for peace for us and for the whole world,” he said, noting that people live with the awareness that new strikes can happen “at any minute, on any day.”
Kulbokas said communication with other cities is difficult, and many women don’t know where their sons or husbands are, which has encouraged people to turn to faith, and for some, has increased the intensity of their prayer.
“I cannot say that everyone is living this profound spiritual experience,” he said, but voiced hope “that believers and even non-believers will also be united in every way to asking God for peace.”
“We do not want only the appearance of peace, we want a true peace, a true change of hearts, above all for those who began the war,” Kulbokas said, voicing his conviction that “the main ‘weapon’ is precisely prayer.”
“In my opinion, there are no other ways out than prayer and the conversion of those who are responsible for this war,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen