PHILADELPHIA — The Ukrainian Catholic bishops of the United States have invited clergy, religious and lay Catholics to remember and pray for victims of the coronavirus, victims of racism “or acts of police brutality” and victims of protests by celebrating a “Panakhyda,” or requiem service, at the end of the Divine Liturgy June 28.
“Week by week, we have been returning to regular Sunday services. Most of our parishes are now open. We rejoice that we can finally be together in prayer,” they said in a June 19 pastoral message. “Thus, as we begin again, carrying with us the experience of the last months we call all to a deep spiritual reflection on the signs of the times.”
The message was issued by: Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who is metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S.; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of the Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago; Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo of the Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio; and Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
“The last four months have been tumultuous and tragic, shocking our country and the world,” the bishops said. “The COVID-19 virus spread globally. Millions who got infected were hospitalized and suffered physical and psychological torment before a thankful recovery. Many corona victims have lasting, debilitating aftereffects.”
“Family members, parishioners, friends and acquaintances have succumbed to the pandemic,” they said, noting that despite doctors’ and nurses’ “heroic efforts” to save them, at least 122,000 people in the U.S. and a half million globally have died from the disease, “not counting unconfirmed cases.”
Among the deceased is retired Metropolitan-Archbishop Stephen Sulyk, 95, who died April 6 of complications from COVID-19. He headed the Philadelphia archeparchy from 1981 to 2000.
The bishops lamented the fact many people died “in isolation” because their loved ones “could not be at their bedside” and “clergy could not administer the sacraments.”
“Funeral rites were abridged, and those attending were limited in number,” they added. “Among the deceased are medical martyrs who put their lives on the line helping their patients. Their sacrificial service and love will always be admired and remembered.”
Beyond the havoc wrought by the pandemic, they said, “American society was equally shocked by the tragic and appalling killing of George Floyd,” an African American man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis May 25.
“The gut-wrenching white and black image of the suffocating knee on the neck and the desperate plea “I can’t breathe” outraged the nation and world, prompting an unprecedented wave of civil rights protest against racism and police brutality,” they continued. “Many Americans are seeing what we did not see before, recognizing responsibilities that we can no longer ignore.”
Many Americans have come together in “solidarity with Black Americans and with all victims of racism,” the bishops said. “Many are praying in a new way for a new world, a renewed nation.”
They said it was heartbreaking to see some demonstrations “turned violent.”
“Innocent people, including police officers carrying out the essential mission of protecting society from criminals, were hurt or even killed,” they continued. “Large and family-owned businesses were torched and robbed, including those owned by or serving” African Americans.
“The Lord calls our nation to a deep examination of conscience — to see and purge persistent patterns of bigotry and hatred, to acknowledge injustice, to cleanse our hearts of evil passions,” the bishops said. “The Lord calls us to face our future with prayer. Through prayer we will move to authentic solidarity with our discriminated-against brothers and sisters. Only with the Lord, in him, and through him can we overcome the sinfulness of our human nature.”
The bishops ended their statement with a series of prayer petitions:
— “Let us pray for our deceased loved ones, friends, relatives, neighbors, doctors, nurses, first responders and medical personnel who have died of the virus.”
— “Let us also pray for Mr. George Floyd and others like him who died as a result of injustice, let us pray for those who died in the bonds of slavery or other expressions of racism.”
— “Let us pray for the victims of riots and unbridled passions.”
— “Let us pray that the Lord grant peace, physical and psychological healing, reconciliation and tolerance and true justice!”