Pope Francis writes with the love of a father grieving with his children, with the pain of the pastor who sees a people wounded by “destruction and pain, hunger, thirst and cold”.
The letter was written by Pope Francis to the people of Ukraine exactly nine months from the unleashing of “the absurd madness of war”, months in which he has launched over one hundred appeals for the “martyred” nation. It is addressed to all: to the women, victims of violence or war-widows; to the young men sent to the front; to the old people who have been left alone; to those who have become refugees or displaced persons; to the volunteers and the priests, to the country’s authorities.
It is to all of them that the Bishop of Rome conveys closeness asking that they not lose courage in a time of hardship and trial, and expresses his “admiration” because, as history has already demonstrated, they are “a strong people, a people that suffers and prays, cries and struggles, resists and hopes: a noble and martyred people”.
Rivers of blood and tears
Pope Francis’ letter paints a starkly realistic picture. It begins with a list of the horrors that have become daily bread in the eastern-European nation since 24 February 2022, the first day of the Russian aggression.
“In your skies, the sinister roar of explosions and the ominous sound of sirens rumble ceaselessly. Your cities are hammered by bombs as showers of missiles cause death, destruction and pain, hunger, thirst and cold. Many have had to flee your streets, leaving homes and loved ones behind. Alongside your great rivers flow rivers of blood and tears every day.”
Cruel images imprinted in the soul
The Pope joins his own tears to the tears of the Ukrainian people: “There is no day when I am not close to you and do not carry you in my heart and in my prayers. Your pain is my pain”. Today I see you “in Jesus’ cross of Jesus,” he writes, “Today I see you, you who suffer the terror unleashed by this aggression. Yes, the cross that tortured the Lord lives again in the tortures found on the bodies, in the mass graves uncovered in various cities, in those and so many other bloody images that have entered our souls, that make us cry out: why? How can men treat other men this way?”.
Children killed, injured, orphaned
Today’s tragedies reawaken in the Pope’s memory the dramas that have been unfolding in the world for years. First of all those of the littlest ones, he says, citing the two cases of a baby girl and a 4-year-old girl torn from the world by a missile attack:
“How many children have been killed, injured or orphaned, torn from their mothers! I weep with you for every little one who, because of this war, has lost his or her life, like Kira in Odessa, like Lisa in Vinnytsia, and like hundreds of other children: in each one of them the whole of humanity is defeated. Now they are with God, they see your sorrows and pray for an end to them.”
The pain of mothers and of the people
“How can one not feel anguish for them and for those, young and old, who have been deported? The pain of Ukrainian mothers is incalculable,” adds Pope Francis. He then speaks to the young people who “to be able to courageously defend their homeland” have had to embrace arms “instead of dreams”.
And he speaks to the wives of those who have fallen in the war: “Biting your lips you go forward in silence, with dignity and determination, to make every sacrifice for your children”.
The Pope speaks to adults, ‘who try in every way to protect your loved ones. And to the elderly, “who instead of a serene sunset have been thrown into the dark night of war”. To women he writes: ‘You have suffered violence and carry great burdens in your hearts.
“I think of you and am close to you with affection and admiration for how you face such hard trials.”
In his letter, the Pope does not forget the volunteers, who every day, he says, devote themselves to the people, and to all the pastors: bishops, priests, and religious who “often at great risk for your safety” have remained close to the people, “creatively transforming community places and convents into shelters where hospitality, relief and food can be offered to those in difficult conditions”.
A prayer for the authorities
The Pope’s thoughts also go out to refugees and internally displaced persons, “far from their homes, many of them destroyed.” Finally, an appeal to the authorities for whom the Pope raises a prayer:
On them rests the duty to govern the country in tragic times and to make far-sighted decisions for peace and to develop the economy during the destruction of so much vital infrastructure, in the city as well as in the countryside.
The memory of the Holodomor
In this sea of evil and pain, Francis recalls another great tragedy suffered by the Ukrainian people, the Holodomor genocide, whose 90th anniversary falls tomorrow, 26 November. A “terrible” event, to which he had already referred at the last general audience, which the Pope recalls in order to express his admiration for the “good ardour” of the Ukrainians.
“Despite the immense tragedy they are suffering, the Ukrainian people have never been discouraged or given over to pity. The world has recognised a bold and strong people, a people that suffers and prays, cries and struggles, resists and hopes: a noble and martyred people.”
“I,” Pope Francis continues, “continue to be close to you, with my heart and prayers, with humanitarian concern, so that you may feel accompanied, so that you do not get used to war, so that you are not left alone today, and especially tomorrow, when perhaps you will be tempted to forget your suffering”.
Christmas and the clamour of pain
Concluding the letter, the Pope looks ahead to the coming months, “in which the rigidity of the climate makes what you are experiencing even more tragic”: “I would like the love of the Church, the strength of prayer, the good that so many brothers and sisters at every latitude want for you to be caressed”, this is the Pope’s hope.
“In a few weeks’ time,” he adds, “it will be Christmas and the clamour of pain will be felt even more. But I would like to return with you to Bethlehem, to the trial that the Holy Family had to face on that night, which seemed only cold and dark. Instead, light came: not from men, but from God; not from earth, but from Heaven.
Hence, he entrusts Ukraine to Our Lady, to whose Immaculate Heart he has consecrated both Russia and Ukraine.
“To her Motherly Heart I present your sufferings and your tears”