ROME – Nine months after the eruption of the war in Ukraine, Pope Francis Friday sent a letter to the Ukrainian people praying for peace and saying he shares in their suffering, especially that of children, the elderly, and women who have endured violence.
In his Nov. 25 letter, the pope told Ukrainians that “I would like to unite my tears with yours and tell you that there is not a day in which I am not close to you and I do not carry you in my heart and in my prayer.”
“Your pain is my pain,” he said, saying, “On the cross of Jesus today I see you, you who suffer the terror unleashed by this aggression. Yes, the cross that tortured the Lord lives on in the tortures found on the corpses, in the mass graves discovered in various cities.”
In these and the many other “bloody images” that have made the rounds since the war began, he said, the question arises of “why? How can men treat other men like this?”
Pope Francis’s letter was signed Nov. 24, exactly nine months after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Although exact numbers are impossible to obtain, to this day, it is estimated that roughly 100,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded since the war began, and Ukrainian military have suffered similar casualties, with the number continuing to grow daily.
According to United Nations estimates, around 6,500 civilians have so far been killed, however, this toll only counts deaths once a name and other identifying details have been confirmed. Ukrainian officials estimate that the real number of civilians killed is closer to 40,000.
Meanwhile, some 7.8 million people have fled Ukraine since February and are living abroad as refugees, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Millions of others are internally displaced within Ukraine, marking the largest displacement of people in Europe since World War II.
In his letter, Pope Francis lamented that for the past nine months, “the absurd madness of war has been unleashed” in Ukraine.
“In your sky the sinister roar of explosions and the sound of sirens reverberate without stopping. Your cities are pounded by bombs while showers of missiles cause death, destruction, and pain, hunger, thirst, and cold,” he said, noting that many have been forced to flee, leaving loved ones behind.
“Alongside your great rivers flow rivers of blood and tears every day,” he said, noting that stories of fresh tragedies reach him daily.
Francis voiced specific sorrow for the suffering of children in the conflict, saying, “how many children killed, wounded, or orphaned, torn from their mothers!”
“I cry with you for every little one who, as a result of this war, has lost their life, like Kira in Odessa, like Lisa in Vinnytsia, and like hundreds of other children: in each of them the whole of humanity is defeated,” he said, saying these children are now “in the womb of God, they see your troubles and they pray that they will end.”
He addressed the many young people who made the decision “to courageously defend” their homeland, saying “you had to take up arms instead of the dreams you had nurtured for the future.”
Pope Francis also pointed to the wives who have lost husbands and who “biting your lips continue in silence, with dignity and determination, to make every sacrifice for your children,” as well as the elderly, “who instead of spending a serene sunset were thrown into the dark night of war.”
Referring to the countless stories of women who said they have suffered sexual violence in the conflict, the pope offered words of comfort to all those “who have suffered violence and carry heavy weights in their hearts; to all of you, wounded in body and soul.”
“I think of you and am close to you with affection and admiration for how you face such trials,” he said.
The hundreds of volunteers providing basic needs to those on the frontlines also received a special greeting from the pope, as did the country’s pastors, “who – often with great risk for your safety – have stayed close to the people, bringing the consolation of God and the solidarity of brothers,” often in difficult conditions.
Francis said he thinks often of refugees and the internally displaced, who are either far from home or who have lost everything as a result of the fighting, and that he prays daily for the country’s leaders, who “have the duty to govern the country in times of tragedy and to make forward-looking decisions for peace.”
It is their duty, he said, “to develop the economy during the destruction of so many vital infrastructures, in the city and in the countryside.”
He noted that the war is taking place 90 years after “the genocide of Holodomor,” in which approximately 10 million Ukrainians died during an artificial famine imposed by the Stalinist regime from 1932-1933.
Recalling this tragedy, Pope Francis said he was in awe of Ukrainians’ “good ardor,” and that “despite the immense tragedy it is undergoing, the Ukrainian people have never been discouraged or abandoned to pity.”
“The world has recognized a bold and strong people, a people that suffers and prays, weeps and fights, resists and hopes: a noble and martyred people,” he said, assuring of his closeness, prayer, and concern for the humanitarian situation.
Noting that the harsh winter months are rapidly approaching, at a time when Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is being targeted, he said the onset of winter makes the situation “even more tragic.”
“I would like the affection of the Church, the strength of prayer, the good that so many brothers and sisters at all latitudes, be caresses on your face,” he said, noting that “the screeching of suffering” will be felt more acutely at Christmas this year.
He recalled the difficulties that the Holy Family themselves had to endure the night that Jesus was born, “which only seemed cold and dark. Instead, the light came: not from men, but from God; not from earth, but from heaven.”
Pope Francis closed by entrusting Ukraine to the Virgin Mary, saying, “let us never tire of asking for the longed-for gift of peace, in the certainty that ‘nothing is impossible for God.’”
“May he fulfill the just expectations of your hearts, heal your wounds, and give you his consolation,” he said, saying, “I am with you, I pray for you, and I ask you to pray for me.”
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