I went to a Ukrainian Catholic church to pray a rosary for peace. I did not expect to find supportive Muslims there.

I don’t have time to go to the rosary of the Church for Peace in Ukraine, but I’m going anyway. I have to do something, even if I have the impression that my small gesture will be useless. So I drive our minibus to the Ukrainian Catholic Church a few towns further. The building is yellow brick with a scalloped roof; Garlands of blue and yellow tulle, in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, hang along the railings leading up the stairs.

Just inside the door, a woman in a fleece vest embroidered with the name of the church stands, arranging donation envelopes and blue and yellow ribbons of remembrance on a table that also holds a sign. advertising a corned beef dinner for St. Patrick’s Day.

The church is small but slowly fills up; older ones come first, then families with young children, then teenagers come last, hunched shoulders. The interior of the church is mostly painted in gold, but in an organic and non-ostentatious way. We are surrounded by statues and saints, icons written on the walls, angels with striking blue wings cradling the churches in their arms. A dove is watching us all.

I don’t have time to go to the rosary of the Church for Peace in Ukraine, but I’m going anyway. I have to do something, even if I have the impression that my small gesture will be useless.

A priest in a black cassock speaks in heavily accented English about news of his parents and his many relatives who still live in Ukraine. “Putin doesn’t care about his country,” he tells us. “He doesn’t care about the world. Hope the world can stop it.

In this small town, we begin to pray for the whole world.

The priest and the scattered members of the congregation sing a song in (I assume) Ukrainian and (I assume) dedicated to Mary. They sing loudly and passionately with strong and beautiful voices, but not necessarily well, and I love everyone even more because of it.

We pray the Sorrowful Mysteries. Each person is ready for their assigned decade, announcing their mystery boldly. The agony in the garden. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me…” Together we pray the odd little prayer between the decades that often seems old-fashioned but feels awfully relevant today, as the stories of residential buildings hit by Russian missiles are making headlines: Save us from the fires of Hell.

Perhaps in a moment of confusion about the language, or of bad acoustics, when the priest prays his ten Hail Marys, I hear him say “blessed are those who are among the women” ten times. The woman in front of me runs her fingers along her green glass rosary. The woman on the next bench huddled her toddler, their faces close. In Ukraine, videos show dozens of pregnant women, and those who have just given birth, crammed into bomb shelters converted into maternity wards. Earlier today, I cried watching a Ukrainian mother on the run cry as she said goodbye to her adult son, who was left in the country to fight.

We pray for perseverance. We pray for all who are crucified on the cross of ego, politics, greed.

We pray for perseverance. We pray for all who are crucified on the cross of ego, politics, greed.

The last prayer overwhelms us: Hello, Holy Queen…. To you we cry, poor children banished from Eve. To you we send our sighs, weeping and crying in this valley of tears.

We are here on the first day of the Great Fast—Lent in the Byzantine Rite Church—and so the congregation is invited to make prostrations. It is a penitential ritual in which elderly members of the faithful fall to their knees again and again, touch their heads to the ground and sing in their mother tongue a song which I will learn later translates into a request for ‘avoid “a spirit of laziness, negligence, lust for power, idle chatter. Instead, they ask to secure “the spirit of continence, meekness, patience and love”. , as the chariots slowly crawled through their ancestral homeland, they pray, “Yes, Lord and King, grant me to perceive my transgressions and not to judge my brother, for you are blessed forever and ever.”

When the singing is over, the woman with the parish brand fleece vest stands up and thanks everyone for coming and asks if anyone has anything to share, which is always a touchy question in church.

In front of the church, near where an American flag, a Vatican flag and a Ukrainian flag are lined up, a woman with long, curly black hair and a black puffy winter coat stands and smiles. “As you can see, we are Muslims,” ​​she said, pointing to a dozen family members – serious-looking men, veiled women, masked children – seated next to her. Under the cobalt domed ceiling, the angels with long trumpets, she says she came from Turkey three years ago to flee the fighting. She says the experience of sharing this rosary left her emotional, that Mary is also so special to the Muslim faith. She tells us how her family wanted to be here in solidarity with the suffering of Ukrainians, and she invites everyone to events in their community of faith.

The woman in the vest has tears in her eyes. There’s a beat, and then people start shouting their appreciation for his gesture. And we all start to stand as the priest and the woman in the waistcoat remind us of envelopes and websites where we can donate money. They promise that the money will not be used to support the war but to support the people who suffer from it. They urge us to reach out to politicians to advocate for no-fly zones. People line up to talk with the Muslim woman, shake her hand, smile at the children, greet the men.

“As you can see, we are Muslims,” she says, and the experience of sharing this rosary left her emotional, that Mary is also so special to the Muslim faith.

When I return home, I learn that a 40-mile-long tank convoy is heading for Kiev. I take a deep breath as my stomach drops. Everything is worse than before I left. And so on, those moments of exquisite grace and excruciating pain, inextricably linked on the world stage. Did I really expect our prayers to make an instant difference?

Save us from the fires of Hell.

I close my eyes and see the church again, a very small building in a small town where nothing is happening, except maybe tonight something is happening, even if it’s not what we thought we asked. I see the infant napping in his stroller and the elderly person kneeling, prayers shouted to the sky, a man in a Red Sox jacket and a priest in a cassock. I see that everything ends with the adhesion of Ukrainian Catholics, Roman Catholics and Muslims. In front of the church, the shimmering icon of the Theotokos shelters us all under her veil.

[Related: Praying for peace in Ukraine—even when it feels useless]

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