It’s the time of Lent. Time to reflect on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and on the suffering He endured for each of us. Given free will, rather than choosing to follow the Lord as creatures created in His image and likeness, we have allowed and continue to allow ourselves to be seduced by the Deceiver, who tempts us into evil works and into darkness posing as virtue and light. How ironic that the Evil One is named Lucifer, the “One-who-carries-Light,” for He stands against the One who is the Light of the World (see John 8:12). But we are reassured in the prologue of the Gospel of John: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5), a text which in the Byzantine tradition is read on Easter Sunday.
We keep witnessing the suffering of the people of Ukraine because of the evil actions of its neighbour. This neighbour has unleashed a campaign of violence and destruction that shocks us by its inhumanity. Many are saying that this unspeakable suffering has not been seen in recent history, but the truth is that we haven’t been paying attention and have let down our guard. We think of places like Bosnia, Chechnya, Syria, Georgia and even Ukraine over the last nine years. Somehow, we were able to look away and managed to convince ourselves that it really didn’t concern us, much like those who saw Jesus being led to Golgotha, but looked away and tried not to draw too much attention to themselves.
Today the entire world sees the senseless violence in Ukraine and the suffering of the Ukrainian people. An entire country almost three times the size of the UK is being bombed and invaded, with the civilian population intentionally being targeted, day after day. In our Ukrainian brothers and sisters we recognise our own fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. We think, but for the grace of God, there go I. And the Spirit of Truth moves us to compassion towards the widows and orphans, towards the mother with young children whose husband is defending his land from the invader. While the world community has shown great solidarity and support, and a willingness to take in at least some of the millions of persons displaced by the war, if the evil that has arisen is to be defeated, and it must be defeated for humanity’s sake, then we must do more. Above all, we cannot and must not look away, for the Crucified Christ is present in those who suffer.
Those who a year ago were shopkeepers, students, actors, professionals have now had to flee their homes or are injured and mourning the loss of family and friends. Many of these ordinary men have become territorial defenders. Almost every day we are asked to celebrate memorial services for family members or friends who have died fighting or in the bombing.
Let us pray for Ukraine and its people, that the Cross it is bearing be not unto death, but unto life. May they find strength and courage to withstand the terror that has been visited upon them. And let us also pray for the invaders, that the Holy Spirit may open their eyes and that they be horrified by their works. But let us also be assured of Christ’s victory, for in His Resurrection He sets free those who accept the Light and understand what it means to be children of the Light.
Rt Rev Kenneth Nowakowski, Bishop for Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain and Apostolic Visitator of Ukrainian Residents in Ireland and Northern Ireland, was born on May 16, 1958, in North Battleford, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1989, he left for Ukraine. He was among the founders of Caritas Ukraine, serving as the aid organization’s first president from 1994 to 2001. Returning to Canada, he was rector of the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Ottawa until 2007, when he was appointed head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of New Westminster, at the age of 49. In January 2020, he was named leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London. In July 2022, Pope Francis appointed him also responsible for the faithful in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Learn more about the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London and their work with the Ukrainian Welcome Centre.