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Ukraine Nunzio: the Pope’s closeness heartens the soul

Pope Francis has proposed this Wednesday, 26 January, as a day of prayer for peace for Ukraine, and has expressed his concern over the increasing tensions that threaten peace and security in Ukraine and in the rest of Europe. In an interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, speaks of the crisis in the country, over which the spectre of conflict is hovering.

Svitlana Duckhovych – Vatican City

These are the hours of diplomacy, which seek to defuse conflict between Ukraine and Russia through negotiation. The West and Russia are trying to mediate a crisis that has now lasted for years, from the “low-intensity” conflict, as analysts define it; to the current winds of war, for the Ukrainian population. The Apostolic Nuncio to the country, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, speaking to Vatican News, says people are comforted by the closeness shown once again by Pope Francis last Sunday at the Angelus.

How has the Pope’s appeal been received in Ukraine?

Here in Ukraine, Pope Francis is one of the religious personalities most respected by the local population, so this appeal by the Pope after last Sunday’s Angelus prayer was immediately received as very important news, which lifts the heart, expresses closeness and solidarity, and during times of difficulty like these in Ukraine, knowing that you are not alone and forgotten is already a great help.

How is the current situation being perceived among the population?

In this period of my mission as nuncio, there is the war that has been going on for eight years in the eastern regions of the country, and it has certainly created many problems. There are those who have lost their loved ones, and I have also personally met several people who have been hard hit – there are those who have lost their health, their homes, their jobs – but all this has made Ukrainians stronger in the face of difficulties.

The risk of a possible worsening of the conflict is experienced with more courage. There is concern, but at the same time, I have noticed a lot of love for the homeland and also a great decision to do one’s part if there are difficulties. As many people know, there are native Ukrainians here, and there are regions with a predominance of Russians, or others where there is a significant presence of Polish, but this month I have been able to appreciate the love on everyone’s part. I am not saying that there are no difficulties, but in general the conflict seems to have increased cohesion throughout the country.

How is the local Church experiencing this situation?

I am answering mainly with reference to the Catholics in Ukraine, but there are also the Orthodox Churches and other Churches. As we know, in the Greek Catholic Churches and also in the Latin Rite Catholic Churches since 2014, the year the conflict began, during all the Eucharistic celebrations and also in other moments of prayer, there is always a moment of prayer for peace. In these last few weeks, the prayer for peace is even more present, stronger, and it will be especially so on Wednesday, 26 January, at the invitation of Pope Francis and in union with him and all men of goodwill.

What is the importance of prayer for the Ukrainian people at this time?

I have asked myself this question many times and my conclusion is that we must consider above all our vocation as believers in Christ and our vocation as human beings. As we have seen, even Pope Francis in last Sunday’s appeal stressed that we are not worthy to call ourselves men and women if we do not consider others as our brothers and sisters. The prophet Isaiah said: God will not hear your prayer unless you are converted, unless you live justice, unless you live mercy. Therefore, this prayer that we live, we live it for peace; but the meaning of this prayer is above all that we convert ourselves, to live fidelity to God and to live brotherhood and mercy towards all, with humility, with courage, with creativity, to say to the Lord: I now entrust everything into your hands.

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