Only this week, did I learn that Ukraine is the 2nd largest country in Europe with a population of 44 million. The eyes of the world and the media are now trained in horror on this part of the world. It somehow does not seem real that a continent than has experienced the horrors of the two World Wars of the 20th century could if this escalates find itself in an even more frightening war than those of our grandparents and great grandparents. It might even be tempting for some of our world leaders to divert our attention away from internal issues by focussing on the enemy outside our domestic borders.
The church used to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war’ and we all can recall the stories of the Crusades, but Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti (October 2020), ‘Never again War! He refers to peace 125 times throughout the letter. It is true that good communication opens up the way to the path to peace and inflammatory language can lead to an escalation of war. So at this time those with a public voice carry a great responsibility for their actions but also what and how they say it – careless talk will cause lives!
At the end of any war and after great destruction, talks have to take place and it is in revenge that many of the foundations are laid for the next conflict. One only has to visit the World War I graveyards in Belgium and northern France to see the crosses row on row for those who gave their lives. Therefore, as propaganda and the painting of one side good and the other side bad gains feverous momentum, it is important to maintain perspective. Pope Francis ‘appeals to all sides to abstain from any action that could provoke more suffering to the populations, destabilising coexistence among nations and discrediting international law’. We would do well to do the same whilst supporting in prayer and action those who are suffering because of war and displacement.
This does not mean we accept coercive actions by one nation over another. Pope Francis condemned the ‘diabolic senselessness of violence’ and asked the Madonna, ‘the Queen of Peace, to save the world from the madness of war’. He visited the Russian Embassy in Rome and expressed the sentiments of many when he stated, ‘I have great pain in my heart because of the worsening of the situation in Ukraine’, adding that he was anguished and worried like many around the world because peace was threatened by partisan interests. This visit by the Pope to an embassy in a time of war is unprecedented in living memory.
Ash Wednesday, on March 2nd this year has been designated as an international day of fasting and prayer for peace. Pope Francis has called on all people to fast, believers and nonbelievers alike. People are asked to observe a reduced diet with no meat.
Pope Francis, Prayer for Peace
Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!
We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried… But our efforts have been in vain.
Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words ‘division’, ‘hatred’ and ‘war’ be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be ‘brother’, and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam!
Mass on Ash Wednesday will be held in the Cathedral at 10.30am, 7.30pm in St. Brigid’s and 7.30pm in St. Joseph’s, Sheeptown.