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At Panakhyda liturgy, Ukrainian Catholics pray for war dead

Ukrainian Catholics prayed a memorial liturgy for the dead Thursday night, asking God to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to bring peace to the Eastern European nation and its people.

The Panakhyda liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, D.C. Credit: Kate Scanlon/The Pillar

The prayers of the Panakhyda - a memorial liturgy for the dead - were offered in Ukrainian Catholic parishes around the world March 10, after Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych directed that Ukrainian Catholics pray for those who have died during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, D.C., a small gathering of Ukrainian Catholics prayed the liturgy Thursday evening.

Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparch of Philadelphia, led Thursday’s Panakhyda liturgy at the shrine.

War is “against the will of our Father in heaven and against the will of any sane person,” Gudziak preached.

He added that Ukraine’s defense against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime has “inspired the world,” and the country has won “a moral victory.”

After the Panakhyda, Gudziak told The Pillar that “it’s good for everyone” to gather in prayer during a difficult time for Ukraine and the Ukrainian community.

Catholics in the United States should offer prayers and humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, Gudziak said, but also work to stop the spread of misinformation disseminated by the Russian government.

“You hear it all the time, people claiming this is some kind of question of NATO,” Gudziak said, adding that Putin’s government spreads misinformation because a free press and a free political system in Ukraine is a danger to his totalitarian regime.

Gudziak also sharply criticized propaganda describing Putin as a defender of “traditional values” that has taken root in some far-right online forums, noting that in addition to a corrupt government, Russia has seen spikes in its abortion and suicide rates during Putin’s decades in power.

“There are lies about the past, there are lies about the present,” he told The Pillar. “These things need to be explained.”

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is a sui iuris Eastern Catholic Church, part of the communion of the Catholic Church under the authority of the pope. Most of its approximately 4 million members live in Ukraine, with about 50,000 in the United States.

Members of that community in the United States gathered at Thursday’s liturgy in Washington, and some offered stories about the experiences of friends and relatives still in Ukraine.

One Ukrainian student said she came to the United States just days before the invasion, adding that she is proud of her country, and eagerly awaits returning to relatives there.

One mother said her young son told her he understands “Ukraine is on fire and we have to pray.”

Others became emotional, as they discussed a maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, which was bombed by Russian forces.

Iryna Yasinska Graves, who attended and spoke at the event, said that after World War II, Western leaders vowed “never again.”

In an interview with The Pillar, Graves said she hoped Western governments would keep that vow for Ukraine.

“If the West will not cover our sky, we must pray that God will cover our sky,” Graves said, urging the West to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as has Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Graves said she was thankful for the opportunity to pray “in unison” with her community.

“As Jesus told us, ‘Whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of you,’” she said. “So that is why I came.”

Yuri Deychakiwsky of the non-profit United Help Ukraine told The Pillar that he came to the liturgy to pray because, as individuals, “we’re powerless to change the whole situation.”

“But do what you can do, even if you think it’s a little thing. If everyone does the little thing they can do, that amounts to something,” he said.

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