Interreligious delegation begins solidarity mission to Kyiv
By Lisa Zengarini
As war between Ukraine and Russia enters its fourth month, more than a dozen faith leaders from the major world religions, including the Catholic Church, started a three-day solidarity visit to Kyiv on Tuesday during which they will pray together for peace, distribute humanitarian aid and meet Ukrainian religious and political leaders. The high-level religious delegation travelled by bus from Warsaw and will return to the Polish capital on May 26.
Vitali Klitschko’s appeal
The mission follows an appeal launched by the Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko, who in March asked world spiritual leaders to visit the then besieged Ukrainian capital to show their solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
The inititive is organized by Europe a Patient Association, a pan-European and non-partisan group based in Warsaw, advocating for a sustainable and solidarity-based response of European countries to the current health, economic and humanitarian crisis in the continent.
The host partner is Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, a non-governmental organization that created the first modern Holocaust museum in Eastern Europe. Also collaborating are several organizations, including Sojourners, a Washington based Christian NGO dedicated to articulating the biblical call for social justice and peace, and members of the Jesuit Georgetown University (USA).
Praying for a just peace
After their arrival on Tuesday morning, the religious leaders held a public outdoor prayer service at Babyn Yar, which was the site of massacres carried out by Nazi forces during World War II . It will be followed by another prayer service in Kyiv at noon on Wednesday. The organizers also plan to appeal to the Russian authorities for a prayer vigil for a just peace to take place in Moscow.
“We are here to demand that bombing of Ukrainian cities stop”, said Dr. Mateusz Piotrowski, one of the lead organizers of the initiative and president of Europe a Patient. “We want to contribute to strengthening humanitarian corridors. We also hope that interventions by religious leaders, in the form of prayer vigils for a just peace can be instrumental to peace-building in Ukraine and elsewhere ”, he added.
According Mr. Maksym Rabinovych, CEO of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, bringing together leaders from different fields – religious, politics, science, culture – can show the way to stop the war, save lives and restore peace. “For five years our Memorial Center has been studying the history of the Holocaust to prevent genocides and promote human dignity and we are committed to this aim today in particular, when peaceful Ukrainian cities are suffering from shelling, a lot of houses of civilians are destroyed and so many people are tortured and killed in barbaric manner”, said Rabinovych.
Members of the delegation
Members of the delegation include Anglican Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, of Dorking, United Kingdom, who says she was honoured to accept the invitation: “In my heart, at this moment, there is no greater prayer than that for peace and justice in Ukraine. It will be an immense privilege for me to be able to offer this prayer in the ‘eye of the storm’ with an interfaith group of religious leaders who are - despite our differences, but also because of our differences - determined to join together for peace ", Bishop Wells said.
Quest for truth
Another member of the delegation, Imam Yahya Pallavicini, president of COREIS (the Italian Islamic Religious Community) and coordinator of EULEMA, the European Muslim Leaders’ Majlis, highlights the importance of interreligious cooperation in this difficult moment for Europe. “We need to learn together how to develop a reliable model of interreligious cooperation for the injured soul of Europe. Jews, Christians and Muslims of the West visiting together the blessed land and people of Ukraine need to share the sacred quest for truth and peace, through the humble service of justice, in order to prevent atrocities and the lack of fraternity”, the Italian Muslim leader said.
Catholic members of the delegation include Ms. Michele Dunne, OFS, Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network and Sister Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Executive Co-Secretary of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Union of Superior Generals (male religious congregations) and of the International Union of Superior Generals (female religious congregations).