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ROME – European bishops have voiced solidarity with those impacted by the ongoing war in Ukraine and appealed to Russia to stop the violence.

In an Oct. 14 statement, delegates from Europe’s bishops’ conferences expressed “deep sadness at the horrific human suffering inflicted on our brothers and sisters in Ukraine by the brutal military aggression initiated by the Russian authorities.”

“We remember the victims in our prayers and wish to express our closeness to their families,” the statement said.

A recent escalation in attacks, the bishops said, risks “increasing further expansion of the continuing war, with disastrous consequences for humanity.”

“The war in Ukraine also affects us directly as citizens of the European Union,” they said, and pointed to all those impacted by an “increasingly dramatic socio-economic hardship due to the energy crisis, rising inflation and the soaring cost of living.”

Crises such as these “make us realize the deep value of the European Union and its founding vision,” they said, and voiced gratitude for “the tireless efforts of European decision-makers in showing solidarity with Ukraine and in mitigating the consequences of the war for European citizens.”

“We strongly encourage these leaders to maintain their unity and to remain committed to the European project,” they said.

The bishops, who are members of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), gathered in Brussels Oct. 12-14 for their fall plenary, which was largely dedicated to the Russia-Ukraine war, and the resulting continental crisis.

Prelates held 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, and stressed the need for greater EU cohesion.

The Russia-Ukraine war has been raging for nearly eight months following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, causing the death of thousands, including children, and forcing millions from their homes.

Although fighting in recent weeks has mostly been concentrated in eastern Ukraine, things escalated when Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced it had annexed four occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, a move not recognized by the international community and widely condemned by global leaders, including Pope Francis.

On Monday, fighting escalated again throughout Ukraine when Russia launched missile strikes on several cities, leaving nearly 20 people dead and over 100 more injured, after the partial destruction last weekend of a key bridge linking Russia to the annexed peninsula of Crimea.

The Russian 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, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and US President Joe Biden, the strikes also 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.

Putin has also recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine to protect Russia’s “territorial integrity.”

Pope Francis issued a rare direct plea to Putin to “stop the cycle of violence” during a Sunday Angelus address earlier this month, while also urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be open to negotiations.

He asked world leaders “to do everything in their power to put an end to the ongoing war, without allowing themselves to be drawn into dangerous escalations, and to promote and support initiatives for dialogue.”

In their statement, which was signed by 20 European prelates, including the leadership of COMECE, currently led by Luxembourg Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, issued a firm appeal to “the aggressors” of the conflict, asking them “immediately to suspend the hostilities.”

They also urged all parties “to open themselves up to negotiation of ‘serious proposals’ for a just peace, to work towards a solution to the conflict, which respects international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen