ROME – Pope Francis Wednesday gave a special greeting to a Ukrainian priest reading the Polish translation of his general audience remarks whose parents, he said, are currently hiding in an underground shelter near Kyiv.

Speaking to Polish-speaking pilgrims during his March 2 audience, Francis thanked them for Poland’s welcome of Ukrainian refugees, saying, “You were the first to support Ukraine by opening your borders, your hearts, and the doors of your homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war.”

“You are generously offering them everything they need so that they can live in dignity, despite the drama of the moment,” he said.

Francis then drew attention to Father Marek Viktor Gongalo, who read aloud the Polish-language summary of his general audience catechesis, which is focused on the value and meaning of old age.

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Referring to Gongalo, the pope noted that while Gongalo read in Polish, he is Ukrainian, and said that “his parents right now are in an underground shelter to defend themselves from bombs, in a place close to Kyiv, and he continues to do his duty here with us.”

“By accompanying him, we accompany all of those who are undergoing bombardments and who are suffering, his elderly parents and many other elderly people who are underground to defend themselves,” he said, adding, “We carry the memory of this people in our hearts and thank you for continuing in your work.”

The war in Ukraine is currently in its seventh day, and fears are rising as Russian troops draw closer to the capital city of Kyiv.

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Reports indicate that a Russian convoy stretching some 40 miles long is closing in on Kyiv despite the intense international pressure being placed on Russia through economic and personal sanctions against its banks, gas providers, and the country’s elites.

Some 660,000 Ukrainians have fled or are attempting to flee the country, with around 400,000 of them crossing into Poland.

Local Caritas branches are providing frontline assistance to refugees waiting outside in the cold weather for days in long lines to cross the border and have called for the urgent establishment of humanitarian corridors for Ukrainians attempting to escape the war.

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Caritas is also working closely with the International Organization for Migration to facilitate the entry of Ukrainian refugees into neighboring countries, and to provide for those who are stuck.

Several churches have reportedly been hit by rocket blasts, and in Kyiv, the city’s iconic Independence Square has already been surrounded by barricades and sandbags as locals brace for an assault from the Russian military.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen