The United Nations estimates that more than half a million people have fled Ukraine since the unprovoked Russian invasion began on Thursday (Feb. 24). The University of Notre Dame enjoys a special relationship with Ukrainians, including the presentation in 2019 of the Notre Dame Award to Archbishop Borys Gudziak, president of the Ukrainian Catholic University, for his work for religious and academic freedom and for his courageous and visionary leadership of the first Catholic university established in the territory of the former soviet Union.
In a show of solidarity with Ukraine, a prayer service for the people of Ukraine was held Monday evening at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The Basilica was filled to capacity for the vigil, led by Father Andrij Hlabse, S.J., a theology doctoral candidate and Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic priest.
The service was a molében for the Virgin Mary, a supplicatory prayer service used within the Orthodox Christian Church and various Eastern Catholic Churches that honors Christ, the Virgin Mary or a specific feast, saint or martyr.
Father Hlabse welcomed the congregation in English, Ukrainian and Russian, expressing solidarity with the people of Ukraine. He then reflected on his time as an undergraduate at Notre Dame when he would look to the Golden Dome and pray. He noted the numerous golden domes that likewise adorn many churches in Ukraine.
“We can imagine how many people looked at those domes against the broad and bright Ukrainian sky with feelings similar to ours when we see Notre Dame’s Golden Dome gleaming against the firmament. And yet today, that consoling and inspiring sight is occluded from Ukrainians’ eyes,” he said. “Instead of glistening domes and bright blue draping, the sky is filled with the roar of the aggressor’s machines of war, the thick black smoke emanating from a city attacked below the specter and even the stench of death. This cloud of material and human destruction hovers over the whole nation, obstructing its sight. We can thank God that here in the West, here at Notre Dame, such ominous clouds do not hang over us and the Golden Dome just next door. But, even if these literal hazes of pain and suffering are not here, further west, the no-less-real clouds of moral consequences and fallout loom. We cannot flee from them. We cannot close our eyes and wish them away. And these clouds are as thick and dire as those that envelop the Ukrainian capital.”
Referencing the 2014 Maidan Revolution and the rebirth of civil society in Ukraine, Father Hlabse noted that a space was opening up “for a truly humane civilization, marked by respect for human dignity — a dignity so loved and longed for because it had been denied for so long.” The Ukrainian people’s desire to look westward and to become a part of Europe has been cut short, first by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces invading and annexing Crimea, initiating an ongoing war, and now with all-out invasion.
Father Hlabse emphasized that there is still room for hope and that by offering the evening’s service to the Virgin Mary, the congregation was asking her for Pokrova, meaning “Mary’s protection” in Ukrainian. Her protective mantle, he said, “pushes away the clouds of egotism and materialism. It saves from the mere complacency of words — strong as they may be — that otherwise permit any one of us to continue comfortably, totally undisturbed, making a mockery of real virtue which has to sacrifice. Mary’s mantle helps us realize that solidarity is a virtue which must be exercised in order not to atrophy, or even die.”
Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., closed the service by asking participants to look to the Virgin Mary’s example as the world witnesses the horror of war.
“Our hearts ache for the people of Ukraine in their time of uncertainty and suffering. We so want to help, but feel helpless at this time,” said Father Jenkins. “In our reading for tonight, we hear that Mary stood at the foot of the cross, utterly helpless to prevent the suffering and death of Jesus. Yet her presence there spoke powerfully and meant everything. So we at Notre Dame must be present to the suffering of our sisters and brothers in Ukraine, even if we cannot prevent their suffering.”
He urged all to pray for an end to the war and encouraged people to donate to relief agencies.
“Let us pray for a just peace, for an end of the fighting, bombing and forced migration. Let us join with the suffering of the Ukrainian people in a small way with our self-denial this Lent,” Father Jenkins said. “And let us give alms, by donating to a relevant cause, such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis or other agencies that are listed on the ND International website. Let us stand with Our Lady and the people of Ukraine in their time of need.”