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Saints and blesseds of Ukraine

After a shocking wave of Russian military strikes across Ukraine on Thursday — attacks beginning a full-scale military assault on the country — Ukranians officials say they are prepared to fight back against Russian invasion, and say they will win. \

Catholic Ukrainians, and those around the world praying for their country, may well turn to the intercession of Ukrainian saints and blesseds.

Here are a few - of many - worth getting to know.

Blessed Michaelina Josaphata Hordashevska

Born in Lviv in 1869, Michaelina was known for her unusual piety in childhood. At 18, she felt herself called to be consecrated entirely to God, and made a private vow of chastity.

Michaelina planned to enter a contemplative and cloistered order of nuns, until her spiritual director urged her to consider instead a new apostolic community of sisters, which would serve the poor as nurses, teachers, catechists, and caretakers for children.

The Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate were founded in 1892. Michaelina, taking the name Sister Josaphata, was the community’s first superior at age 23; the group began with just seven young sisters. Within 10 years, there were 128 sisters in Ukraine, and sisters soon went to Canada to serve Ukrainian immigrants living there.

Under Sister Josaphata’s leadership, the community’s active life was attractive and evangelically effective, and it became eventually the largest community of women religious in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Sister Josaphata faced difficulty in the community: because of internal division, she was not permitted until 1909 to make final profession of vows in the community she had cofounded. She also faced heath problems: in her 40s she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and after a long and painful illness, she died at 49 in April 1919.

She was beatified in 2001, during Pope St. John Paul II’s pastoral visit to Ukraine.

Blessed Volodymyr Pryjma

Born in July 1906 in the western Ukrainian village of Stradch, Volodymyr Pryjma trained as a liturgical cantor, and became the cantor and choir director in his own village parish.

Married and the father of two young children, he and Fr. Mykola Konrad were captured by Soviet agents on June 26, 1941, as they walked on a forest road outside of Stradch. They had been returning from the home of a sick woman who had requested that the priest hear her confession. It was a Thursday.

When they didn’t come home from that confession, villagers began searching for Volodymyr and Fr. Mykola. One week after they were accosted, their bodies were found in the forest. Volodymyr had been tortured, and then stabbed repeatedly in the chest with a bayonet.

Pope St. John Paul II declared him a martyr, and beatified Volodymyr Prjma, along with Fr. Mykola Konrad, in June 2001.

St. Vladimir I of Kyiv

Born to a family of rulers in 958, he was eventually king of the Kievan Rus, but only after building an army and waging a combative power struggle against his brother, following the death of their father. By 980, at 22, Vladimir had built a realm that extended from Ukraine to the Baltic Sea.

A pagan, Vladimir took seven wives, and participated in religious rituals that some scholars believe involved human sacrifices. But under the guidance of the Byzantine emperor Basil II, Vladimir became a Christian in 987, reportedly after he sent emissaries to study the religious practices of neighboring countries and people. Vladimir is said to have found Eastern Christianity to be the most beautiful of any religion his advisors studied — though politics were likely also a factor in his conversion

However it happened, once he was a Christian, Vladimir ordered that pagan idols be thrown into the river, that churches be built, and that his countrymen be catechized in the Christian religion. He also built schools and developed programs of aid for the poor, at the same time developing habits of extraordinary personal charity. His rule — and especially the Christianity he brought to Ukraine — saw him remembered as St. Vladimir the Great.

Blessed Klymentiy Sheptytsky

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Klymentiy Sheptytsky was an accomplished legal scholar and a politician, who was educated in Poland and became a member of the Austrian parliament.

While he had practiced Latin Catholicism for much of his life, he eventually returned to the practices of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and then entered a Ukrainian monastery at 43, renouncing his secular profession.

In 1915, when he was 46, he was ordained a priest, and served for decades as the monastery’s hegumen, or prior, until 1944, when he took up its head position — the monastery archimandrite. Archimandrite Sheptytsky opened his monastery to persecuted Jewish boys during World War II, saving as many lives as he could.

Sheptytsky’s brother, Venerable Andrey Sheptytsky, was the Metropolitan Archbishop of Lviv, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and himself a holy man. The post-war Soviet effort to persecute Ukrainian intellectuals and religious leaders included an effort to intimidate the archbishop — his brother Leon was murdered along with his wife.

Archimandrite Sheptytsky himself was arrested in 1947, pressured to renounce his union with Rome and serve as a Russian Orthodox priest. When he would not do so, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, and died a martyr, in a Russian prison in 1951.

He was beatified in 2001.

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