Ukrainian emergency services battle a fire following missile attacks Ukrainian emergency services battle a fire following missile attacks 

Nuncio to Ukraine: 'We are used to war, but we must pray for peace'

As Russia steps up strikes on Ukrainian cities, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, discusses the situation on the ground, and the importance of the Church's response to the crisis.

By Joseph Tulloch & Svitlana Dukhovych

On the day that Ukraine was hit by renewed missile attacks, Vatican News spoke to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas. The interview with Svitlana Dukhovych ranged over the situation of Ukraine’s civilian population, the role of the Church in the conflict, and the Pope’s appeals for peace.

Situation in the country

On Monday, 10 October, Ukraine was struck by the heaviest bombardment since the early days of the war, with missiles striking not only multiple locations in the centre of the capital, Kyiv, but also Lviv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, and other cities. Officials say the strikes killed at least 11 people.

"After seven and a half months of intense war we’re used to it, psychologically, in a way, so it affects us less,” says Archbishop Kulbokas. “But it hurts, because with every missile, with every bomb, people die, in addition to the other damage.”

“Even prayer becomes partly desperate,” he adds. However, the war is also “a spiritual experience that makes us convert, makes us be more and more united with God. 

“There is this very strong aspect of constancy, because we’re constantly relying on God. I can't say that everyone is having this profound spiritual experience, but I have heard many, many such testimonies.”

Role of the Church

The Archbishop underlines two main ways the Church is responding to the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Firstly, he says, churches open their basements to serve as bomb shelters, thus becoming “part of the civil defense system.” This is the case for both “the Roman Catholic church of St. Nicholas in the centre of Kyiv and the Greek Catholic cathedral, which has a good basement, meaning that it can accommodate a great many people. The help goes not only to parishioners but also to people who live nearby.”

Secondly, he says, “the dioceses, parishes and diocesan and parish Caritas continue to be very active, especially in going to those places that have suffered directly from the attacks. I’m not referring so much to today's attacks, but rather to those areas that were occupied for a long time and need constant, daily help. I know that there are convoys, even coming from Kyiv, that sometimes travel several hundred kilometres to help those regions where there’s nothing, where there’s no more manufacturing, there’s no more work... Sometimes, the people who are left there rely on aid that comes from other regions.”

As well as the actions taken by the Church, however, Archbishop Kulbokas also stresses the centrality of its prayer. “My personal reading is that the main ‘weapon’ is prayer itself. I’m sure of this every morning, when I celebrate the Eucharist as a bishop. I know that I speak directly with Jesus present on the altar, and I present him with the same question: ‘All that we need is one word from you, Jesus, and we will have peace.’ I believe that there is no way out except prayer and the conversion of those who are responsible for this war.”

A just peace

Pope Francis has made constant and urgent calls for an immediate end to the war. Archbishop Kulbokas describes meeting with the wives and mothers of Ukrainian troops taken hostage, who told him that “the only thing we want is peace, the only thing, because otherwise there is great suffering.”

What is particularly important about the Pope’s appeals for an end to the war, says the Archbishop, is his emphasis on “just peace”.

“When he talks about peace, the Pope always talks about peace that has not only the appearances but that is a real peace. We do not want only the appearances of peace, we want real peace, a real change of hearts.”

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11 October 2022, 13:17