A battle for the soul of humanity

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP addresses the congregation at St Andrew’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Lidcombe. Photo: Patrick J Lee
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP addresses the congregation at St Andrew’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Lidcombe. Photo: Patrick J Lee

Very Rev. Archpresbyter Simon Ckuj, Vicar-General of His Excellency the Most Rev. Eparchial Bishop Mykola Bychok CSsR and Parish Priest of St Andrew’s; my brother priests; distinguished guests including Hon. Tony Burke MP, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, and others; dear parishioners and friends of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Ukrainian community:

These past weeks the world has looked on with horror at the events unfolding in Ukraine. A brave, sovereign, peaceful, democratic country is being overrun by a rapacious, imperial power that aims to decapitate its peaceful neighbour and replace its democratically-elected government with a puppet regime. As a result thousands are dying and millions being displaced.

After centuries of eating itself up and sacrificing its young men in war after war, Europe resolved eight decades ago to put an end to this barbarism. Sixty years ago the first Catholic President of USA, John F. Kennedy, declared: “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” St Paul VI then prayed: “No more war, war never again.”

“The Ukrainian “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013-14 was built upon respect for human life, dignity and freedom …”

Of course, there have been various deadly skirmishes in Europe (and elsewhere) since then, but the community of nations signed and has mostly abided by non-aggression pacts and the major powers undertook never to cross the boundaries of a sovereign state without U.N. mandate. Unfortunately, the Russian President Putin apparently does not regard himself as bound by such undertakings, and now Europe is again at war, and Ukraine is subject to a David and Goliath struggle.

Ultimately, as I see it, this is not so much a clash of competing powers or even power blocs, as it is a clash of worldviews, philosophies, moralities. The Ukrainian “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013-14 was built upon respect for human life, dignity and freedom, and so was supported not only by the Ukrainian people but also by their Greek Catholic Church. A responsible and accountable democracy, however imperfect, was built and that is something President Putin cannot abide on his doorstep and is what led to his first invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine, as I said, is a brave, sovereign, peaceful, democratic nation, but it is also an overwhelmingly Christian country, and the sad reality is that one of the motives for this second invasion is the independence that Ukrainian Catholics and most Ukrainian Orthodox claim from the Moscow patriarchate. Again, it seems that President Putin will not abide such independence. If religion has become a pretext for this war, it must also be part of the solution.

St Mary's Cathedral is lit up in the colours of the Ukrainian Flag. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
St Mary’s Cathedral is lit up in the colours of the Ukrainian Flag. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

And so last weekend Pope Francis made the diplomatically unprecedented move of turning up in person at the Russian embassy in Rome to call Russia to account. He also spoke to President Zelenskyy about the “most profound pain” he felt at all the Ukrainian people were suffering. He has asked all Christians to pray and fast for an end to this war and for the safety of our sisters and brothers of Ukraine—and indeed of Russia.

This is why I wanted to join you all in the Divine Liturgy here today. This is why there have been constant prayers for peace in my cathedral, in all the parish churches of Sydney and around the country and the world, and indeed in other Christian churches and other faiths.

This is why I have called upon my people to be generous to the Caritas Ukraina appeal. This is why St Mary’s has been lit in blue and yellow colours at night. And this is why an icon of Our Lord, given to the Sydney archdiocese by Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, has been put in pride of place for people to pray before in the cathedral.

“… we must all recognise that this battle is essentially a spiritual one, a battle for the soul of humanity, and only by the intervention of God, His Most Holy Mother, the martyrs and saints, will peace be restored.”

However lonely this feels, please be assured of the continuing prayers of all the Catholics of Australia for the safety of your relatives and friends, and of our solidarity with you all in these anxious times. For we must all recognise that this battle is essentially a spiritual one, a battle for the soul of humanity, and only by the intervention of God, His Most Holy Mother, the martyrs and saints, will peace be restored. And so I invoke them now for this spiritual combat:

St Michael the Archangel, Patron of Kyiv—pray for us.
St Andrew (d. 60 AD), First Holy Apostle, Principal patron of Ukraine…
St George the Great (d. 303), Soldier and martyr…
St Nicholas of Myra (d. 343), Bishop and wonderworker…
Sts Cyril (d. 869) and Methodius (d. 885), Apostles to the Slavs…
St Olga of Kyiv (d. 969), Defiant queen and mother…
St Volodymyr the Great (c. 1015), Christian king and almsgiver…
St Anthony of the Caves (d. 1073), Monk and founder…
St Josaphat (d. 1623), Archeparch and martyr…
All holy men and women of Ukraine…
Our Lady, Queen of Peace…

These are the remarks given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the conclusion of a divine liturgy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, St Andrews Lidcombe, 6 March 2022.