Local Ukrainian Catholics say that their faith and an outpouring of support and compassion from the Australian community is giving them hope as war rages in their homeland.
Thousands of people have gathered to pray, including civic and religious leaders who attended Ukrainian Catholic churches around the country last weekend, pledging aid to Ukraine and refuge to people fleeing the violence in dangerous and freezing conditions.
In Lidcombe last weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended the Divine Liturgy at St Andrew’s Catholic Ukrainian Church, along with local Federal MP Dr Fiona Martin, the Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke and Special Minister of State Ben Morton.
“Peace is not just the absence of war [but] the absence of threat, of violence, of persecution, of subjugation,” – Scott Morrison
Parish priest and eparchial vicar-general Father Simon Ckuj also warmly welcomed around 500 worshippers including a large number of young First Holy Communicants.
“No evil can destroy our joy,” the priest assured them.
“Over the last three days our Patriarch His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk has addressed the people of Ukraine and the whole world from the cellar of the cathedral in Kyiv, and one thing that has struck me … is that throughout everything he says there is a smile on his face,” Fr Ckuj said.
“I think that the reason that the Patriarch can smile is that he has the joy of Jesus Christ. A joy that nobody can take away. The same joy and hope that allows us to overcome, so that no evil can destroy the good within us.”
Later, Fr Ckuj told The Catholic Weekly that the community was “definitely feeling the power of prayer and of other people’s love.”
“Our people were very appreciative of the Prime Minister and Mrs Morrison’s visit, very appreciative of the support we have received from various groups and members of parliament.
“We received a visit from retired Redemptorist priest Fr Bill Goldman who said his heart was broken and he wanted to pray with us and for us.”
Last week the focus shifted from horror at the launching of full-scale invasion on the country at the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to a resolve to unite in prayer for an end to days of bloodshed and terror that has reportedly killed thousands on both sides and displaced hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from their homes.
Mr Morrison told the congregation that the entire Australian community had “thrown its arms around and held tightly the more than 40,000 Australians of Ukrainian ancestry here in this country and to extend every fibre of their support, encouragement and love to the people of Ukraine”.
“Peace is not just the absence of war [but] is the absence of threat, of violence, of persecution, of subjugation,” he said.
“It is what so many Australians of Ukrainian ancestry came to this country to enjoy, to live, to raise their families. They most of all, know “no shells, no bullets, no tyrants can silence faith, can subjugate faith, can take from you the peace of your faith” he reminded them.
Life-long parishioner Peter Kobryn has extended relatives living in a village in western Ukraine. He said that what was getting the tight-knit community through was “our faith and in praying together”.
“Praying is virtually all we can do from here right now, and providing whatever moral and financial support we can offer from 13,000 kilometres away,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking and the soul really hurts but we are so grateful for the incredible support Ukrainians are receiving from all around the world.”
“our community comes together in times of crisis to support and look after one another.”– Natalie Trotnar
His niece Natalie Trotnar said that with her husband Michael and their teenage daughters Sophia and Larysa she was finding great “comfort and hope” in their faith and in the love and concern they had received from so many.
“The Ukrainian Church is very important to us, and many of our friends who have migrated in the last decade or two have immediate family members in Ukraine. What is happening is very close to any Ukrainian’s heart but our community comes together in times of crisis to support and look after one another.”
Australia will provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine as well as refuge for Ukrainians fleeing the war after attacks were launched on a number of Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv at the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Thousands of people also gathered for anti-war rallies around the country.
In Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said it was with horror that the world was watching a sovereign democratic country “being overrun by a rapacious imperial power and thousands are dying on both sides as a result”.
“..it is to be hoped that all nations including our own will be generous in receiving the refugees” – Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP
“Millions of people will be displaced and it is to be hoped that all nations including our own will be generous in receiving the refugees,” he said.
At the Ukrainian Catholic Parish of the Protection of the Mother of God in Newcastle, parishioner Wolodymyr Motyka said the community was “touched” by the visit of Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
Mr Albanese participated with those who had gathered in singing the panakhyda, the Ukrainian memorial service for the dead—with its grave refrain of Vichnaya Pamyat “Memory Eternal”—for all the lives lost in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“Ukrainians in their ancestral land are sacrificing their lives for those values and the least we can do is to appreciate and recognise that they are exhibiting at the cost of their lives the strength of the human spirit over the forces of evil,” said Mr Motyka.
Caritas Australia is supporting Caritas Ukraine to help support Ukrainian families who have fled their homes with vital emergency supplies including clean water, hygiene and food kits and other support in an attempt to prevent a “dire humanitarian disaster”.