As the people of Ukraine continue to suffer greatly nine months after Russia first invaded their country, they hold onto hope that is in many ways inspired by Catholic social teaching, said the Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia.
“They trust in life, they trust in truth, they trust in dignity, in solidarity and subsidiarity and the common good,” said Archbishop Borys Gudziak, who heads the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
Gudziak spoke Nov. 16 to U.S. bishops gathered in Baltimore for their fall general assembly.
“I want to thank you for praying, for staying informed, for advocating, and for helping,” the archbishop said. “There’s no clear count right now, but the aid offered by people in the pews is well over $150 million.”
He also called for additional prayers, solidarity and support for the people in Ukraine, who continue to face serious challenges as the Russian invasion continues.
The country’s infrastructure has undergone billions of dollars in damage. In some cities and villages, more than 70% of the buildings have been destroyed, he noted.
More than 1,000 health care facilities have been destroyed or damaged, as have nearly 3,000 schools. Almost 23% of the country’s agriculture production has been damaged, posing the threat of hunger in Africa and elsewhere.
As the country descends into winter, the suffering of the Ukrainian people intensifies, Gudziak said. Millions of people have no electricity, and the temperatures this time of year often fall below freezing at night. Sixty percent of the population is expected to be below the national poverty line by the end of the year.
“Being careful for your own health, I want to ask you to leave a window open for a few hours in one of your rooms and try to sit in it, now in November,” Gudziak told the U.S. bishops. “And imagine what it’s like for millions and millions of windows to be broken [throughout Ukraine] and to have the main glass factory of the country destroyed.”
And yet, Gudziak said, the spirit of the Ukrainian people has not been broken. He compared them to the youths in Babylon thrown into the fiery furnace.
“How is it possible that in a country where 14 million people have been displaced, there’s nobody on the streets? There’s nobody lying on the curbs. There’s no street people,” he reflected. “I was really hit by this when I came to New York from Ukraine.”
The archbishop said he believes the Catholic Church has played a significant role in forming the character of the nation.
“Systematically since the time of Leo XIII…Catholics in Ukraine have been explaining Catholic social doctrine: Unalienable, God-given human dignity. Solidarity. Subsidiary. And the common good,” he said.
These principles have influenced society, Gudziak said, and this has become apparent in the country’s time of crisis.
“It’s subsidiarity in the army. It’s solidarity among the refugees. It’s the willingness to give your life for God-given dignity. It’s the conversation of common good that has become the language of a secular president.”
“[T]oday, President Zelenskyy is speaking in these terms,” Gudziak said, adding that the American Church has contributed to this with its long-time support of the Church in Ukraine, including through scholarships, seminary funds, and other forms of aid.
“[Zelenskyy] doesn’t know that you’ve influenced him, and he’s influencing the world back, he’s bringing the language of values back to the global geo-political discourse,” the archbishop remarked.
Likewise, Gudziak said, the Catholic Church has shaped the cultures of countries like Poland and Italy, which have welcomed large numbers of Ukrainian refugees.
In total, 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Gudziak asked the bishops to consider sponsoring refugees to come to the United States.
He also urged them to organize prayer events for Ukraine, and even to visit the country if they are able.
“What is happening right now is a veritable genocide,” the archbishop said.
“No act of good is lost. No gesture of solidarity is without fruit.”