Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored the world’s pleas for peace. He rejected intense diplomatic efforts to avoid war in Ukraine. He was unmoved by prayers that the people of Ukraine and Russia would be spared the tragedy and pain of war.
But the prayers continue.
Pope Francis called on the world to fast and pray on Ash Wednesday, in a special way, for peace in Ukraine. In his homily for Ash Wednesday, which was read by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the pope said the Lenten practices of prayer, charity and fasting can change history. They are “weapons of the spirit and, with them, on this day of prayer and fasting for Ukraine, we implore from God that peace which men and women are incapable of building by themselves,” he wrote.
Also on Ash Wednesday, a group of Ukrainian religious leaders answered the pope’s call for a global day of prayer for peace. Catholic, Orthodox, Armenian, Protestant and Muslim leaders gathered at St. Sophia Cathedral in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, even as the city was being shelled with Russian rockets.
In their prayers, they asked God to protect Ukraine and stop the bloodshed.
And in Nashville, there was a show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine on the steps of the Metro Courthouse. Metro Council members read a resolution they passed in support of the people of Ukraine. “We stand with the people of Ukraine as they battle for the safety, wellbeing and independence of their nation,” read the resolution. “We also stand with the innocent people of Russia who support peace, but unfortunately do not have a say in their government’s actions, and do not have the means or the ability to push back against their government.”
Among the prayers offered for Ukraine at the event was one by Father Eric Fowlkes, pastor of the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
“Put an end to the hatred and prejudice that separates us from one another, and lead all of us to love, mutual respect, and tranquility by your grace, and for your glory,” Father Fowlkes prayed to God. “We appeal to you to awaken the longing for a peaceful life in all those who are filled with hatred for their neighbors, thinking especially now of those in Ukraine who are at war or preparing for war. Grant peace to your servants. Implant in them the fear of you and confirm in them love of one for another. Extinguish every dispute and banish all temptations to disagreement. For you are our peace and to you we cry out: hear us and have mercy!”
We are watching scenes of bombed buildings, civilians huddled in subway stations, people shaken and grieving. They are scenes that harken back more than 80 years to the start of World War II when another war machine rolled through European cities with devastating humanitarian costs. Prayers might seem futile, mere words against missiles and tanks. But we cannot stop praying, we cannot stop appealing for peace, we cannot stop reminding the world of the tremendous cost of war in human suffering and loss.
The first victims of war are usually innocent civilians, especially the elderly and children. We cannot forget them.
Pope Francis is constantly praying and appealing for peace. In his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” he wrote, “We can no longer think of war as a solution because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. … In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’ Never again war!”
Lent is a time of prayer, of reforming our lives, of recommitting ourselves to Christ, of praying for mercy for ourselves and for others. This Lent, let us join to those prayers for mercy, prayers for peace – peace in Ukraine and around the world.