Ukrainian Catholics say U.S. aid package is an answer to prayer

4 mins read
Ukraine Aid
Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia speaks during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington March 14, 2023. He expressed his gratitude to lawmakers at the U.S. House of Representatives for approving a long-awaited aid package to Ukraine April 20, 2024, after months of delay and political opposition in Congress. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

(OSV News) — Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S. are breathing a sigh of relief and prayers of gratitude, after a bill for aid to Ukraine cleared the House of Representatives following months of delay, political infighting and even openly anti-Ukrainian sentiment among some lawmakers.

On April 20, the House approved $61 billion in aid for Ukraine, part of a $95 billion foreign aid package that includes Israel, Gaza, Taiwan and other U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Ukrainians are very grateful to people of goodwill in the global community, and in a special way to Americans who are in solidarity with (Ukrainians’) valiant struggle for God-given dignity,” Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia, head of Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S., told OSV News. “They’re also very grateful to American Catholics, most of whom not only understand, but pray and help.”

Support for Ukraine

Archbishop Gudziak said, “Anything that keeps Russia from advancing in Ukraine is to be welcomed,” since such support represents “a defense of life, liberty, and our freedom of conscience.”

Those freedoms have come under intense persecution in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, whose attacks continue aggression launched in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the fomenting of separatist factions in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Russia’s invasion has been declared a genocide in two joint reports from the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. Ukraine has reported more than 130,365 war crimes committed by Russia to date in Ukraine since February 2022.

The International Criminal Court has to date issued four arrest warrants against Russian officials, including two for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the unlawful deportation and transfer of at least 19,546 children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

Religious persecution under Russian occupation

As part of its invasion, Russia has brutally cracked down on religious communities in Ukraine, damaging or destroying more than 600 houses of worship, while imprisoning, torturing and killing clergy and suppressing expressions of faith.

In December 2022, Russian authorities in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region “banned” the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas, denouncing all three as Western-based threats to Russia.

Two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, Redemptorist Fathers Ivan Levitsky and Bohdan Geleta, have been in Russian captivity since November 2022 for refusing to leave their parishioners in Berdyansk, a city in the Zaporizhzhia region. Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has reported both priests have been subjected to torture. According to at least one human rights watch group, Father Levitsky was recently moved to a prison in Russia.

Catholics in Ukraine are far from alone in their suffering under Russian occupation, said Archbishop Gudziak — and for those American Christians who have expressed wariness about continued support for Ukraine, “understanding that evangelical Christians are persecuted together with Jews, (Roman) Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, is at the heart of this issue,” said Archbishop Gudziak, adding that “many people are just coming to a fuller understanding of the realities on the ground.”

Speaker Mike Johnson’s role

One of those who may have gained greater insight into how Russia’s aggression affects Ukrainian Christians is House Speaker Mike Johnson, who had long remained reluctant to move forward with the aid package.

The lawmaker is reported to have met on April 18 in Washington, D.C. with Ukrainian citizen and fellow evangelical Christian Serhii Gaidarzhi, whose wife and four-month-old son were killed in a March 2 Russian attack on Odesa. Gaidarzhi, who joined a number of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American leaders in the nation’s capital last week to rally support for the House vote, was pictured on X (formerly Twitter) with a smiling Johnson during that visit.

“Evangelical Christian Ukrainians organized, allied with Catholics and Orthodox believers, and made exactly that appeal … to (Johnson’s) conscience,” explained Eugene Luciw, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America’s Philadelphia chapter and a member of Presentation of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

“I don’t know exactly what the process of Speaker Johnson’s discernment has been, but I trusted that as a man of faith and a man with a heart, he would do the right thing,” said Archbishop Gudziak.

Luciw, who regularly travels to Washington to meet with lawmakers regarding Ukraine, told OSV News that “religious institutions are not allowed to exist in occupied territories.

“They have no legal existence that’s permitted under (Russian occupation) law,” said Luciw. “There is only one state religion that is allowed to exist, and that is the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has openly blessed and encouraged Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, saying in a September 2022 sermon that those who die fighting with the Russian military will see their sins washed away.

“Unfortunately, Russian propaganda and the jihadist ideology of the Russian Orthodox Church has hoodwinked many,” said Archbishop Gudziak.

The House passage of the U.S. aid bill, which is expected to clear the Senate and the desk of President Joe Biden in days, shows that the U.S. is still capable of countering tyranny, said Ukrainian history expert Nicholas Rudnytzky, dean of academic services at Pennsylvania-based Manor College, a Catholic college founded by the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, a Ukrainian Catholic religious congregation.

Rudnytzky told OSV News that Russia’s atrocities and religious persecution in Ukraine demand global accountability, saying, “The world in the 21st century is so interconnected, both socially and economically, that the barbarisms and cruelties of others cannot be regarded with indifference even if they take place thousands of miles from our borders.”

Power of prayer

With critically needed U.S. aid, said Rudnytzky, Ukraine — which he likened to the biblical David, who defeated the Philistine giant Goliath by means of a slingshot — will have “a chance to stand (its) ground.”

Luciw said that the passage of the aid bill points to “the power of prayer.”

“These are our prayers being answered,” he said. “It started off with a very stark scenario. … How can we account for this without the power of prayer?”

Gina Christian

Gina Christian is a National Reporter for OSV News.