NEWARK, New Jersey — There is a tremor in his voice when Redemptorist Father Taras Svirchuk speaks about the situation in Ukraine.
For now his family is safe, including his mother and sister, who live in Western Ukraine.
But the future is unknown, he said, after Russia began a military invasion of his home country early Feb. 24. He also has cousins in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and feared an uncle and aunt serving in the Ukrainian military could be deployed at any moment.
Taras is the pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Newark, which is part of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. He has lived in the United States since 2008.
“Everybody is overwhelmed,” Taras told Jersey Catholic, the news site of the Latin-rite Archdiocese of Newark.
He has been watching U.S. news reports broadcast from the city of Lviv, where his sister manages a hospital being readied to treat wounded soldiers. “We are asking everybody to pray because we know that we need God to intervene and help us,” the priest said.
In a statement issued Feb. 24, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark urged prayers for the people of Ukraine. He encouraged the faithful to participate in the day of prayer and fasting for peace Pope Francis has announced for Ash Wednesday, March 2.
“We must always reject war as a political solution and pursue honest and respectful dialogue among nations as the only way forward,” said the archbishop, who is himself a Redemptorist.
Up until the last moment, Taras was hopeful that a peaceful resolution could be reached between Russia and Ukraine.
“Even though we understood that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin would attack, you still have this little hope that maybe not,” he said. “It’s difficult to imagine that in the 21st century, war can happen in Europe. I was just talking to a priest there, and I was talking to my family. So, it’s very hard.”
Taras said he spoke with his mother and his sister Feb. 24 after the military invasion began in the early morning hours in Ukraine. His mother, who lives in his hometown of Novoyavorivsk, reported that the city streetlights were off and people were stocking up on groceries and medical supplies.
“People are trying to get produce and bread from the stores to have enough,” he said. “Everybody is trying to get medicine in the drugstore or something just to get ready for the war because they don’t know what to expect.”
In his message, Tobin invited everyone in the Archdiocese of Newark, “and all who long for peace everywhere, to join me in praying for the people of Ukraine.”
An evening in-person prayer service was held at Taras’s parish church Feb. 24, with another scheduled for Feb. 25. The services also were being livestreamed on the parish’s Facebook page: facebook.com/St.JohnUkrainianCatholicChurchNewarkNJ.
The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia established a fund for war victims and humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and is accepting donations online at https://ukrarcheparchy.us/donate.
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Agnish is communications manager for the Archdiocese of Newark.