Catholics ‘optimistic’ on Ukraine’s Independence Day, despite fear of attacks

Warsaw, Poland – Many Ukrainian Catholics remain ‘optimistic and determined’ despite fears of increased Russian attacks on Ukraine’s independence day, a senior priest said, adding that parish life was also continuing under heavy surveillance in occupied areas.

“With martial law in effect, the festivities have been called off, so as not to run the risk of bringing people together,” the father said. Krzysztof Witwicki, Chancellor of the Ukrainian Diocese of Odesa-Simferopol.

“Yet the fact that we are still here, despite these terrible events, shows that the church and its priests maintain faith in God. We provide spiritual support to those who defend us, we remain optimistic and determined.”

The Odessa-based priest spoke to Catholic News Service amid warnings of Russian strikes on the port city and other population centers to disrupt Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24, which also marked six months since the February 24 Russian invasion.

Witwicki said CNS sirens and alarms sounded overnight in Odessa, as nearby towns came under attack, but added that Catholics were “pleased and grateful ‘that Europe and much of the world’ always stand behind Ukraine” against the “evil actions” of Russia.

“With the rockets and missiles still flying, Russia seems, from media accounts, to be preparing some nasty surprises,” Witwicki told CNS.

“But there is optimism, hope and joy among the people here, even though daily life has had to be curtailed. Bridges of unity have been built from the start – and we are counting on l ‘West to maintain its support in the hope that we will all come together in better times.’

President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that the anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 could be marked by “brutal Russian provocations and strikes”, but promised in an August 24 national message that the country would release its territories without “concession or compromise”.

Zelenskyy attended an ecumenical service with Catholic and Orthodox leaders at St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, after laying a wreath in memory of fallen Ukrainian soldiers at the capital’s Memorial Wall.

In an August 24 message, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I pledged “paternal love” to Ukrainians “defending their homeland from foreign invaders”, while Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych thanked “all those who support independent Ukraine, who stand in solidarity with us in our struggle.”

Witwicki said Auxiliary Bishop Jacek Pyl was ‘working normally’ with 12 Catholic priests and four nuns in Russian-occupied Crimea, although church life remained under ‘firm and precise supervision’, with most Masses now being celebrated in Russian.

He added that Catholic churches had been destroyed by Russian shells in several towns, but others had remained intact “thanks to Divine Providence and local prayers”.

“Although priests have been able to lead prayers and hear confessions in their churches, they are regularly questioned by Russian officials and must be very careful about what they say and do. endangering their own lives and those of the people around them,” he told CNS.

Witwicki said the “great anger” over the August 20 car bomb death of Russian political commentator Darya Dugina had raised fears that revenge attacks could be ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who says Ukrainians are behind the murder.

However, he added that no one knew who was responsible for the murder, and he said Ukrainians found it “incomprehensible” that most Russian citizens “just keep quiet, support their government’s actions and accept its way of think narrow”.

“Russia started this war against Ukraine for no reason, and it no longer needs any particular reason for new attacks,” the Chancellor said.

“But we know God has plans for us – Putin can send his rockets, but God will decide if they hit. We need to be optimistic and make sure we never give up on our people when they need help the most Support.”

Witwicki said the diocese distributed rosaries to Catholic soldiers who attended masses during breaks from the front, and he said that every evening people went to church to pray for the soldiers, civilians and children who had died in Odessa and other cities during the day.

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