PHOENIX, Arizona – Parishioners of the Dormition of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in West Phoenix, expressed gratitude for all the Phoenicians who have come to the church to offer support, both financial and spiritual, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Father Hugo Soutus even began his homily at last Sunday’s Mass with a short explanation of why iconography adorns the church’s walls, anticipating visitors’ common questions. But, he quipped, the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s history is long, so for more detail, people should stay and ask after Mass.
And people did stay – to thank him, to express support for Ukrainians, and to make donations to a Ukrainian relief fund the church is collecting. During two days of marathon prayer and fasting last week, when parishioners gathered from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., several people outside of the community dropped in to pray alongside them. That didn’t go unnoticed.
“When we began to pray on Friday, there were a few members of the parish,” said John Skrypoczka, longtime parishioner and volunteer cantor. “And then one by one, two by two, different people, whom I’ve never seen, kept coming. And it’s not like they stayed here the entire day, but they came for a certain length of time, whatever time was available to them, and they prayed with us.”
The days consisted of reading prayers and reciting Psalms. Visitors were asked to read Psalms and they did, Skrypoczka said. “That’s what really touched me – all the people who never heard of our parish but took it upon themselves to find out if there is a Ukrainian something out there and then to come and support us.” He said that while the Phoenix parish is “just a drop in the bucket,” he’s overwhelmed by what Americans are doing to support the people in Ukraine with financial donations and prayer commitments.
Many visitors have told Skrypoczka that they’ll keep praying, “as long as there is a need.”
Christina Ronnberg, a Lutheran from nearby Mesa, said she came to Sunday’s Mass because she was looking for a way to show support for the Ukrainian people. After discovering a dearth of information on a local Ukrainian Orthodox church’s website, she found the Ukrainian Catholic parish and decided to come with her mother, Sylvia Karlsson, a retired Lutheran minister. Both were happy to find a way “to respectfully show their support,” Ronnberg said.
Lawrence Sosnowich, one of the original members of the parish, said that the support of other Christians in Phoenix is gratifying. He’s been impressed that even non-Christians have come to offer support. “The Ukrainian Catholic Church is under fire,” he said. “If (Russian President Vladamir) Putin takes over Ukraine, then he’s going to wipe out our Church.”
The anti-Putin sentiment is something that Soutus grappled with in his homily. While he spoke of his gratitude for all the support that Phoenicians have given, he also pointed out there was one thing he found troubling. While people have been offering their prayers and best wishes for Ukraine and its people, he said that about 98 percent of people have told him they just can’t bring themselves to pray for Putin or the Russian soldiers. While he understands, he also explained that there is no real merit when people only pray for their friends and not for their enemies. “We pray for our enemies because God asks us to,” he said.
Skrypoczka, who is Ukrainian but was born in Poland after the chaos of World War II pushed his parents out of their homes and grew up under the thumb of a Soviet-allied government, finds it difficult to pray for Putin. He has been following news stories of Russian soldiers and their parents having been lied to about aspects of the war and has some sympathy. But Putin is another thing altogether. Still, he agrees with his priest that this is what God asks of him.
“I prayed and I keep praying that our Heavenly Father grant wisdom to Vladimir Putin so that he will recognize his error – repent and ask for forgiveness,” he said. “That’s my prayer.”