At press time the war has not broken out yet. God willing (and it is rather certain that this would be His will), it never will.
The Church, especially in the last few centuries, has been an advocate for peace. This past Sunday (February 13) Pope Francis told the crowd at the Angelus, “The news from Ukraine is very worrying. I entrust every effort for peace to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and to the conscience of the political leaders. Let us pray in silence.”
The previous Wednesday (February 9), at the weekly general audience, the Holy Father said, “I wish to thank all the people and communities who joined in prayer for peace in Ukraine last 26 January. Let us continue to implore the God of peace so that tensions and threats of war may be overcome through serious dialogue, and the ‘Normandy Format’ talks may also contribute to this. Let us not forget: war is madness!”
On Wednesday, January 26, at the general audience, he implored the attendees, “I ask you to pray the Our Father for peace in Ukraine, now and throughout this Day. Let us ask the Lord to grant that the country may grow in the spirit of brotherhood, and that all hurts, fears and divisions will be overcome. We have spoken about the Holocaust. But let us think too that [in Ukraine] millions of people were killed [1932-1933].” This is a reference to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s atrocities during that era.
The pope continued by noting that the Ukrainians “are a people who have suffered; they have suffered from hunger, suffered from much brutality and they deserve peace. May the prayers and supplications that today rise up to Heaven touch the minds and hearts of world leaders, so that dialogue may prevail and the common good be placed ahead of partisan interests. Please, no more war.”
On Sunday, January 23 the pontiff told the people in the Square for the Angelus, “I am following with concern the increase of tensions that threaten to inflict a new blow to peace in Ukraine, and call into question the security of the European continent, with even wider repercussions. I make a heartfelt appeal to all people of good will, that they may raise prayers to God Almighty, that every political action and initiative may serve human brotherhood, rather than partisan interests. Those who pursue their own interests to the detriment of others, scorn their human vocation, because we were all created as brothers and sisters. For this reason, and with concern given the current tensions, I propose that next Wednesday, 26 January, be a day of prayer for peace.”
Pope Francis’ solicitude for the Ukraine is not something new amongst the popes. St. John Paul II told the new ambassador to the Holy See from the Ukraine in 1999, “The friendship and cooperation which exist between your country and the Holy See [are] bonds which go back in history a thousand years to the Baptism of Kievan Rus’ and which have taken on new form and vigor since the advent of your nation’s Independence. I renew the assurance of my prayers for the peace and prosperity of your country. The countries of Eastern Europe, including your own, are undergoing a period of rapid and profound transformation in the social, economic and political spheres. Your Excellency has indicated your country’s intention to achieve a ‘complete reintegration into the European space which rests on Christian values.’ In spite of the hard lessons of this violent century, Europe is unfortunately once again the theatre of the oppression of man by man and of the daily thunder of weapons of death and destruction.”
The Polish pope then made reference to the wars in the former Yugoslavia and added, “it should be clear that the atrocities occurring every day on European soil in the Balkans are not the result of peoples’ genuinely held aspirations; they have instead been fueled by unspoken motives representing particular interests and very definite forms of the thirst for power. It must be the concern of everyone to ensure that dialogue replaces conflict. Dialogue and negotiation would signify the triumph of reason, while the continuance of ethnic conflicts and power struggles in any part of the world are a defeat of reason and a sign of the failure of solidarity and human partnership.”
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to another new ambassador from the Ukraine to the Holy See in 2007, expressed similar thoughts. “Through you, I am also pleased to address my best wishes for happiness and prosperity to the Ukrainian People. In recent years Ukraine, which has always had a vocation as a gateway between East and West due to its location on the Eastern fringes of Europe, has adopted and reinforced a policy of openness and collaboration with the other countries of the Continent. The Holy See appreciates this perspective which helps restore to Europe its true dimension while assuring the conditions for a fruitful exchange between the countries of West and East, the two cultural ‘lungs’ which have forged Europe’s history and have left their mark in particular on its Christian history. This approach will certainly make it possible to reduce the constantly smoldering sources of tension and confrontation between groups or nations and will thus guarantee all the conditions for lasting peace and development.”
The two prior popes both make reference to the precarious situation in which the Ukraine finds itself between East and West and to how, in general, the people there are not looking for war, but for peace.
In his farewell address to the people of the Ukraine, at the airport in Lviv on June 27, 2001, St. John Paul said, “I am now sad to leave this land, which is a crossroads of peoples and cultures, where over a thousand years ago the Gospel began its course to spread and take root in the historical and cultural fabric of the peoples of Eastern Europe. Thank you, Ukraine, who defended Europe in your untiring and heroic struggle against invaders. Thank you, dear Brothers and Sisters, who are part of this Christian community, ‘faithful unto death’ (Rev 2:10). It has been my long-standing wish to express my admiration and appreciation for the heroic witness that you have borne during the long winter of persecution in the past century. As I depart from Ukrainian soil I extend respectful and heartfelt greeting to the brothers and sisters and to the Pastors of the venerable Orthodox Church.
“I bear you all in my prayer and I greet you all in St. Paul’s words of blessing to the Christians of Thessalonika: ‘May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in all ways’’’ (2 Th 3:16).
Let us ask St. John Paul’s and St. Paul of Tarsus’ intercession that those words become a reality.