PHILADELPHIA (ChurchMilitant.com) - Ukrainian Catholic bishops are pleading with people to pray for the peace and protection of Ukraine, as "Herod's" Russia closes in.
Three days after Ukraine's Feast of Epiphany, the Ukrainian Catholic bishops of the United States urged people to "not look away" from the Eastern European nation as it's threatened by an impending Russian attack. In a Jan. 22 statement from the Archeparchy of Philadelphia, the bishops made a thinly veiled comparison of Ukraine's oppressor, Russian president Vladimir Putin, to the biblical King Herod (who sought the annihilation of the infant Jesus).
The bishops related:
Herod appears a homicidal tyrant craving hegemony, who massacres innocent children in Bethlehem in order to kill the Messiah — a vivid image of the lust for power. The Holy Infant, bringing salvation to all, was a menace to a tyrant pathetically clinging to his self-importance ... is the Ukrainian people's exercise of their God-given dignity a threat to a modern Herod's thirst for power and hegemony?
The bishops further described how the human dignity God bestowed on mankind threatens those in power who seek the creation of empires and the domination of others. Political observers noted communist Russia once controlled Ukraine, the second-largest country (by area) in Europe after Russia, and speculated Putin aspires to regain control of the former Soviet satellite.
Media report an estimated 100,000 Russian troops have converged on Ukraine's border, with most political analysts warning war is imminent. Ukraine's citizens presume Russia seeks to finish what it started in March 2014, when Russian troops took control of Ukraine's Crimean region, eventually annexing the peninsula. But according to a European journalist, citizens maintain a "patient resolve" as they live their daily lives.
The Ukrainian bishops asked, "Are religious liberty, a free press, a robust public debate and accountable government in a sovereign state to be punished through the escalation of an invasion that began in 2014?"
The picture the bishops paint is one of a courageous people subsisting under a cloud of immense anxiety and stress. They remarked that, in the eight years since Russia invaded the developing country, Putin's troops have killed 14,000 people (including children) and have displaced more than 1 million Ukrainians. They also noted that ongoing violence has resulted in millions suffering from post-traumatic stress, a common side effect among those who've witnessed war's atrocities.
In a less-pointed response, Pope Francis on Sunday told those gathered in St. Peter's Square, "I make a heartfelt appeal to all people of goodwill that they may raise prayers to God Almighty, that every political action and initiative may serve human brotherhood rather than partisan interests."
Additionally, the pontiff called for Jan. 26 to be a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine.
Europe's Catholic bishops have similarly requested prayers for the Ukrainian people.
The Council of European Bishops' Conferences Friday implored, "At this extremely delicate time, we ask Christians to pray for the gift of peace in Ukraine so that those responsible may be filled with, and radiate, a peace that is contagious, and that the crisis will be overcome exclusively through dialogue."
Other Western nations believe it will take more than mere dialogue to defuse the rapidly escalating standoff. The United Kingdom's Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently informed the House of Commons he may deploy British combat troops in response to Putin placing a "gun to Ukraine's head."
Johnson explained, "The British army leads the NATO battle group in Estonia, and if Russia invades Ukraine, we would look to contribute to any new NATO deployments to protect our allies in Europe."
He added, "We cannot bargain away the vision of a Europe whole and free that emerged in those amazing years from 1989–1991, healing the division of our continent by the iron curtain."
Johnson followed with a strong warning to Russia that, if it pursues violence, many "Russian mothers' sons" will not return home.
In the United States, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, during a news briefing Monday, revealed the Department of Defense has placed 8,500 troops on high alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe in the event tensions intensify on the Ukrainian border. He said the troops would activate as part of a larger NATO contingency and include Army brigade combat teams as well as logistics, medical, aviation and transportation units.
Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands have also pledged weaponry and personnel.
As the threat of war heightens, Ukrainian bishops reminded people that Ukraine's plight is dire and that a Russian invasion will lead to more death, injuries and incalculable heartache:
How long will this continue? How many more shattered families, destitute widows and orphans, grieving parents and grandparents? How many more destroyed churches, mosques and synagogues, schools and hospitals, roads and bridges, homes and apartment buildings, factories and airports? ... how much more torment of freedom-loving citizens and torture of prisoners seized by terrorists? When will this stop?
The Ukrainian bishops, too, join other Catholic leaders in pleading for prayers but with a firm hope in God's divine assistance.
"God is the Lord of history and the lover of humankind," affirmed the bishops. "His grace changes the most hardened hearts. Ukraine was brutally invaded, its territory annexed, the society traumatized. May God convert the promoters of violence. May God protect Ukraine and its people from further harm."
They further implored people to be informed as misinformation abounds, saying "Know the facts and fight falsehood in a post-truth public debate being warped by Russian disinformation. Inform others. The world cannot look away; you should not look away."
The Ukrainian Catholic bishops of the United States invite those who wish to provide those on the front lines with much-needed supplies, like clean water and medicine, to donate here.