A Roman Catholic bishop from Ukraine hailed the courage of hundreds of Polish priests and nuns who remained in their communities after the Russian invasion, while paying tribute to churches in Britain for their solidarity with his country.
“All those who wished to leave were given the opportunity to do so – and, while a few returned home or retreated to other parts of Ukraine, the vast majority remained,” Bishop Jan said. Sobilo, auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian diocese of Kharkiv. – Zaporizhia.
“Ukrainians are aware of the help that Poland gives them; and this war and the feeling of a common threat have brought our countries closer together. But we are also grateful for the solidarity and material assistance offered by a country like Great Britain, where we have heard of Ukrainian flags and emblems which are now commonplace in churches (News, March 4 and 25) .
The bishop spoke as fighting continued in his eastern diocese, from the largely destroyed port of Mariupol to predominantly Russian-speaking Kharkiv.
In an interview with the Church hours On Monday, he said he encouraged a group of Carmelite nuns and several Polish priests to leave Russian-occupied areas, fearing their lack of required permits would put them in danger.
He said Poland’s clergy, however, made up half of the diocese’s total and most were determined to stay, dispense the sacraments and provide humanitarian and spiritual support to residents and those displaced by the fighting in Melitopol, Berdyansk. and in other cities.
“Fortunately, we have not heard of deaths and injuries among priests and nuns – or of direct suffering at the hands of the Russians,” Bishop Sobilo said. “But there are fears that the clergy could be excluded from normal parish functions, as happened in occupied Donetsk and Lugansk. Citizens of countries belonging to NATO and the European Union could be called spies, as happened under the Soviet regime.
Polish priests and nuns make up a large part of the clergy in the seven Latin Rite dioceses of RC Ukraine, and have ministered in the country, often in high positions, since its independence in December 1991, to fill a post-communist lack. native clergy.
Most clergy of Ukrainian descent also speak Polish as a second language, either having been educated in Poland or because they come from ethnic Polish families.
Visiting Poland this week, Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I thanked the country and its predominant RC Church for hosting 2.3 million refugees since the February 24 Russian invasion, in addition to the two million Ukrainians who already live and work in the country.
“I am here to show solidarity and join in prayer with the millions displaced by this unjustifiable aggression and by the violence unleashed by Russia against sovereign Ukraine,” the patriarch said in a speech in Warsaw on Monday. .
“Poland has always known what suffering means, respecting freedom of expression and education, economic freedom, freedom of religion and belief and the right to life. . . He proved to be – both the country and its people – a model of generosity, charity and hospitality.
Bishop Sobilo said the dedication by the Pope of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25 was marked, sometimes in cellars and bunkers, by priests and lay Christians in areas occupied by Russia, raising hopes of an end to the fighting.
He, however, said the war looked set to drag on due to a lack of “common understanding and united voices” among Western governments, and said Ukrainians feared being “left alone without help” once the initial pledges of support expired.
“Ukraine has shown that it can defend itself, and we know that we have to rely on our military strength; but we also hope that God will help us heal the wounds of war so that we can one day return to normal relations with Russia,” the Bishop said.
“Ukraine is not just fighting for its own freedom, but for the freedom of Europe – and, despite everything, I believe that God has a plan for us and will show mercy through the events to come.”
A Polish priest from beleaguered Kharkiv told the Church hours this week that some priests had volunteered as frontline chaplains during the fighting, and confirmed that all Polish clergy had been offered the free choice to stay or leave, by their bishops and superiors.
“With flights long canceled and all land routes blocked, we are praying and doing all we can for our parishioners,” said Fr Wojciech Pasiewicz, director of Caritas in Lublin, Poland.
“There may be dangers for the Polish clergy from the Russians, who may seek to restrict the rights of our Church, as they did earlier in Crimea. But all that matters now is that this war ends and people are allowed to return to their homes and parishes.