Cardinal O'Malley, Ukrainian Catholic leaders hold Lenten prayer service for peace

JAMAICA PLAIN -- While observing the feast of the Annunciation, but with an eye toward the coming Easter, leaders and representatives of the Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, and Ukrainian Orthodox communities united to lead a prayer service for peace in Ukraine.

The service took place March 25 at Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church. Presiding over it were Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Archbishop Gudziak is the highest-ranking Ukrainian Greek Catholic prelate in the U.S. and the former rector and president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.

Father Yaroslav Nalysnyk, pastor of Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Parish, offered welcoming remarks and read a message of greeting from Bishop Paul Chomnycky, Eparch of Stamford. A message was also read from Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios, who was represented by the Metropolis' Chancellor Father Theodore Barbas and Cathedral Dean Father Thomas Chininis.

Also participating in the service were Bishop Mark O'Connell, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Boston; Father James Morris, pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Salem; and Father Roman Tarnawsky, pastor of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Jamaica Plain.

Many Catholic representatives of organizations, consecrated religious, and lay faithful attended the service, showing their solidarity with the people of Ukraine, who have endured over a year of open invasion of their country by Russian forces.

The seminarians of Redemptoris Mater Seminary sang an arrangement of Psalm 133, describing "How good it is to be with brothers." The Christ the King parish choir, directed by Ihor Kowal, also provided music throughout the event.

Archbishop Gudziak delivered the homily. He reminded the assembly that the Annunciation took place among people who were poor, marginalized, and occupied by an empire.

"We pray today, representing the poor, and those marginalized, and those who are part of somebody's imperialist project. We pray with them, for them, and we pray that our hearts be transformed, that like in Nazareth that day, more than 2,000 years ago, the Holy Spirit can touch our hearts," Archbishop Gudziak said.

He said six of his former students have been killed fighting for their country. Thousands of homes, schools, and medical institutions, as well as nearly 500 churches, have been damaged or destroyed in Ukraine. In a report released a few days earlier, the World Bank estimated that it will cost at least $411 billion to rebuild Ukraine.

"For Ukrainians, it's an incredibly important consolation to have you pray with (them) and build that relationship," Archbishop Gudziak said.

He said that the solidarity shown by the Boston community "helps conserve the integrity of our hearts."

"We are called to preserve our hearts, to preserve them from fear, from hatred, and from retribution. It's very difficult, when you're being killed, not to hate. It's actually impossible. Human nature has reflexes. We can't resist them. It is only with grace, it is only with God's power, that we can do what Jesus did: love the enemy," Archbishop Gudziak said.

He pointed out how Ukraine had demilitarized during the first 20 years of its independence. The country gave up its nuclear weapons and significantly reduced the size of their army, making it clear that they were not aggressors and did not want war.

"This people has been attacked by somebody who wants empire, and Ukrainians have said no," Archbishop Gudziak said.

He invited the assembly to pray "that we can fully trust that God is with his people."

"His truth, his justice, and his peace will prevail," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley also shared remarks. He spoke about Pope Francis' encyclical "Fratelli Tutti," which gives an exegesis of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

"It's from the desire to be a neighbor, a friend, 'brothers and sisters all,' that we gather here to pray for the people of Ukraine, those suffering from the horrors of war, and those many refugees in the diaspora," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Harkening back to the words of Psalm 133 sung by the seminarians, the cardinal said, "We know that peace is the fruit of justice that comes about when there is conversion of hearts. We pray for that today."

"Our prayer during this holy season of Lent is that the crucifixion of the Ukrainian people will soon be transformed into resurrection," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He also touched on the celebration of the Annunciation. He pointed out how Mary's first recorded words in Scripture are spoken during this event, and her last recorded words are at the wedding in Cana when she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.

"Mary's first word is 'yes,' and her last word is telling us to say yes -- yes to God, yes to Christ, yes to the cross, and yes to that invitation of Christ to be Samaritans, to 'go and do likewise,'" Cardinal O'Malley said.

Archbishop Gudziak commended Cardinal O'Malley's work toward peace and justice in the Church. The archbishop called particular attention to the cardinal's suggestion that the Ukrainian Catholic Church establish a long-term rebuilding fund, separate from funds for their immediate relief. Cardinal O'Malley made the inaugural contribution of $500,000 toward this new fund, drawn from the archdiocese's $1.1 million special collection for Ukraine.

As a token of their gratitude, the archbishop presented a gift to the cardinal: an icon of the Blessed Mother decorated with amber formed in the soil of Ukraine.

After the prayer service, a reception with Ukrainian food was held in the parish hall.

Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Parish has become a center of community not only for Ukrainian Catholics but also for other Ukrainian organizations and other volunteers working to help the people of Ukraine in the war.

Father Nalysnyk, the pastor of Christ the King, remembered one Ukrainian soldier who was wounded and sent to Boston for medical treatment. His life had been saved by using tactical medicine sent from the U.S.

"I always remember every donation, every dollar, has tremendous value," Father Nalysnyk said, speaking to The Pilot during the reception.

Vito Nicastro, associate director of the archdiocese's Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said he thought the prayer service was "an important catechetical moment," because the religious leaders "led us into a practical act of compassion and goodness."

They also spoke about the shared devotion that Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics have for the Blessed Mother. Father Nalysnyk explained that Ukrainians often refer to her as the Mother of God, a title that evokes the gentleness and tender love of a mother.

Nicastro said that was not only "great teaching" but also "the most practical thing in the world" in light of what is happening in Ukraine. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian children have reportedly been taken and sent to Russia for "reeducation."

"When I pick up the newspaper and I hear about abducted children, I immediately think, 'Mary, Mother of God, intercede and save those children. Help us to know how to change the situation,'" Nicastro said.

Father Nalysnyk said he appreciated the cardinal saying that peace is a result of justice.

"That statement has tremendous, deep meaning. We are praying for peace, but also how to achieve this peace. You have to also work for justice. How will you be successful to maintain justice (after) the war? You have to win," he said.