At the close of his recent trip to Ukraine, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri met with youth from the troubled country, telling them not to be discouraged by the challenges they face but rather to trust in the Lord and commit to changing society for the better.
The cardinal, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, began his July 15 speech noting that the youth “have had a thousand reasons to stay at home” rather than join him and his delegation for the annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Zarvanytsia, where the encounter took place.
Among these reasons are “the summer heart and the fatigue of the journey, but also and above all the interior ones,” he said, and pointed to the various doubts and questions they might have, such as “why must I get on the road and march like a pilgrim, when around me I see so much suffering and fatigue linked to the possibility of building a future?
“Why believe in God, when around me I see so much violence, when I hear the noise of war, when the steps that are asked of some of you are those of marching like a soldier? Why trust still, when it seems that a corrupt mentality cannot be stopped and the attachment to power is lived as personal gain rather than for the interests of the community and the building of the common good?” he asked.
As a consolation, Sandri said the only answer he can give them is to “look at yourselves, as we are doing here from the stage, at your faces – tired, perhaps, but happy.”
The decision to make the pilgrimage is itself “the answer that your hearts and your lives have given to every doubt and every question, which can arise in youth as in adults,” he said.
“Your journey is the right attitude of the heart and of life, and it’s also the most rational,” he said, explaining that “we walk with the mind, learning to study and reflect, cultivating intelligence and learning to discern what happens around us in the world.”
Pointing to the Annunciation, Sandri noted that Mary’s question to the angel, “I do not know a man” showed that Mary was not static, but involved in the story. This question, he said, “ became the engine to not stay closed in herself, but rather to go out, to go to her cousin.
“The encounter with Elizabeth is a precious occasion for Mary,” he said, noting that when meeting her, Mary “explodes in a song of joy, which we call the Magnificat, which is the song of the poor ones of Israel, of those who regardless of everything continued to believe that the Lord had not forgotten his promises.”
In this song, he said, is the “great wisdom” of one who has learned to entrust himself to God and to contemplate the great things he has done throughout history and which he continues to do now.
Even in the “famous and beautiful” shrine where the meeting took place is part of the story of faith of the Greek-Catholic Ukrainians, he said.
As such, it serves as an invitation to learn about their tradition and discover that even today, God “continues to be close and make us participants and protagonists in the work of salvation that he continues to fulfill even for your people.”
Sandri made a July 11-17 visit to Ukraine to participate in the national pilgrimage to the Shrine of Zarvanytsia, located 15 miles north of Buchach.
His visit falls amidst ongoing upheaval in the country, where pro-Russian separatists in the east have been fighting government forces since April 2014. The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people and displaced millions.
The fighting in eastern Ukraine followed closely on the March 2014 annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian territory, by Russia. Russia is also believed by Western governments to be assisting the rebels in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts; a claim denied by Moscow.
In his speech, Sandri said he would carry with him the various celebrations and meetings he had while in Ukraine, particularly his visit to the eastern, conflict-ridden region of the country “so tried by the battles which have forced many of your brothers and sisters to flee.
“I have seen the pain, but also many signs of hope, like many flames which slowly light a great fire,” he said, and pointed to the example of displaced persons who, despite their own situation, have begun to work with the local Caritas to “alleviate the pain and deprivation” of others in the same situations.
He pointed to the example of priests, both Greek-Catholic and Latin rite, who during the years of communism were imprisoned or deported.
In addition to these, he also pointed to priests who “in recent episodes of war that have have bloodied your land have protected and saved as many as they could,” despite being in danger themselves.
As youth, who get the majority of their information through various forms of social media, the cardinal asked that they think of the suffering that children in other parts of the world have to endure, such as the students and volunteers of the Jeremiah Educational Center of Faisalabad, Pakistan, who are persecuted “for their faith in Jesus.”
He also asked youth to consider stopping to pray the rosary, and in so doing, send “the embrace of Jesus” to the British infant Charlie Gard and his family, who are in the midst of a legal battle over treatment for the critically ill child.
“The exercise of intelligence to understand the present, prayer, charity and solidarity are ways in which you can also start to walk, like Mary,” he said.
Sandri then told the youth to read and meditate on Pope Francis’s message for the upcoming World Youth Day in Panama in 2019.
In his message, the pope asks that youth “continue your steps not only remembering the past, but also having the courage in the present and hope for the future, to recognize your origins, to always return to the essential and to throw yourself with creative fidelity into the building of new horizons,” Sandri said.
“You are the salt and light of this world; don’t resign to thinking that things cannot change,” he said, telling them to “change society, where often the strongest and corrupt dominate, through a pure heart, faithful to God, faithful to the most authentic humanity.”
The cardinal also told attendees to “allow the oil of God’s consolation to soothe the inner wounds of so many,” particularly young women manipulated into being surrogate mothers – which he called “a terrible practice” increasingly banned by countries – and those who have had abortions.
“Let us pray that they feel the desire for the caress of God’s mercy and commit ourselves for a new surge of the defense of the dignity of women and children from every form of trafficking and exploitation,” he said.
Sandri closed his speech asking the youth to also help their priests prepare for the upcoming synod of bishops in 2018, dedicated to “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”
The cardinal noted how in the pope’s letter to youth, published alongside the initial outline of the synod discussion, Francis wrote: “Can things change? YES.”
“This cries from your young heart which does not bear injustice and cannot bend to the culture of waste, and neither can it believe in the globalization of indifference!” he said, quoting the pope.
“Even when you experience, like the Prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of your age, God encourages you to go where he invites you: do not be afraid, because I am with you to protect you,” Sandri said, and entrusted the youth to the intercession of the Virgin Mary before giving his blessing.