Tears, prayers and support across the diocese for war-torn Ukraine

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BRIGHTON BEACH — As tanks crossed the Ukrainian border and Russian missiles bombarded major cities, Catholic faithful in parishes across the Diocese of Brooklyn held prayer masses for the Ukrainian people last weekend to offer hope and support for the war-ravaged nation of Europe.

All the gatherings were common to Ukrainian Catholics, looking exhausted, watery-eyed from lack of sleep, constant crying, or both.

Emergency Masses with fervent prayers for Ukraine were held, the first being Thursday, at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church in Midwood. The congregation included people from the Ukrainian Catholic Church (Eastern Rite) and the Roman Catholic Church. Although their customs differed, they all spoke the same language – Ukrainian – as they offered songs and prayers.

A second emergency Mass was held Saturday evening at Guardian Angel Parish in Brighton Beach, attended by Bishop Robert Brennan and Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski, both of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Before Mass, Bishop Brennan walked down the center aisle, quietly greeting those seated in the pews. He addressed the assembly at the end of the mass.

“You know,” he said, “Bishop Witold and I wanted to be here tonight in a very special way because what you are doing tonight is what we Catholics do in times of tribulation. We gather to pray, we offer our hearts to God, we ask for his protection over Ukraine.

“My heart breaks with your hearts. But we are filled with that same sense of hope that comes to us because of Jesus Christ who faced evil squarely in the eye.

“Jesus will always triumph over evil. Jesus will bring healing to our hearts.

The celebrant was Father Sergiy Emanuel, pastor of the Guardian Angel and coordinator of ministry to Russian and Ukrainian immigrants for the diocese. The parish usually celebrates mass in Ukrainian on the first Saturday of the month.

Saturday’s concelebrants were Eastern Rite Priests Father Ivan Tyhovych and Archpriest Roman Malyarchuk, Parish Administrator of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mission.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Father Emanuel and Archpriest Roman Malyarchuk celebrated Emergency Mass Thursday at St. Brendan’s, where the Eastern Rite Parish has Sunday Mass.

Bishop Brennan also engaged people after Mass on Saturday evening, including Snizhana Romaniuk, who came to the United States from Ukraine five years ago. She is an Eastern Rite Catholic, but she went to Guardian Angel on Saturday because she knew there would be a prayer for Ukraine. She said Bishop Brennan’s words reassured her.

“I have family in Ukraine, on the west side,” she said on the verge of tears. “My mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, my uncle – everyone. I’m from a small village, so it’s pretty safe now, but of course they’re in danger. Every time I see the news, I call them.

“They try to be strong. They have no other choice. »

Guardian Angel parish member Olena Rogalska attended Mass with her husband, Marco, and their baby girl, Veronica. She and her husband both have family in Ukraine.

Rogalska urged everyone to pray for their homeland and join in protests like the Lithuanian Procession in Williamsburg on Sunday. She said such activity is in stark contrast to 2014, when Russia invaded parts of Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula.

“The whole world is supporting us now,” she said. “And the whole world understands what is happening now. In 2014, no one believed us. They were like, ‘What are you talking about?’

“But you have more information now. It’s important because a lot of people, a lot of soldiers – boys, really – are dying.

“A shared history of oppression”

On Sunday, Father Tyhovych celebrated regular Sunday Mass at his parish, Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in Williamsburg. He said they would later welcome visitors – Lithuanian Catholics from Mount Carmel-Annunciation Parish, a few blocks away on North 5th Street.

Father Tyhovych said that the Lithuanians came with some diplomats. They wanted to visit their Eastern Rite Church, also on North 5th Street, to show solidarity with their Ukrainian neighbors.

Unbeknownst to the parishioners, the 140 “neighbors” of Mount Carmel-Annunciation decided Thursday, at the start of the invasion, to show their support for Ukraine and its diaspora in Brooklyn and Queens.

A bailiff, Yaroslav – born in the United States to a Ukrainian family, preferred not to give his last name to protect the family in his parents’ homeland – did not think much about the announcement, but when the neighbors finally arrived, he and his fellow parishioners could only cry.

“People were coming in, and it was one person after another,” he said. “They were carrying our flags, and their flags, and it just overwhelmed you. After that, I was walking around with my phone, filming and taking pictures, and I couldn’t stop crying. I cry again.

After the Ukrainian Mass, the Lithuanians presented Father Tyhovych with a carved wooden replica of a traditional roadside shrine from their home country. At the top was an emblematic figure of the “Compassionate Christ”.

“It has a very deep meaning for Lithuanian Catholics and is found in churches and homes all over Lithuania,” said Raimundas Šližys, administrator of Mount Carmel-Annunciation parish. “He was especially revered during the years of Soviet occupation of Lithuania.”

Šližys noted that last Sunday, February 27, parishioners celebrated the independence of Lithuania. The parish has held a mass in Lithuanian since 1914, he said.

“We normally celebrate Lithuania’s independence as a joyful event, but this year our thoughts are focused on the tragic events in Ukraine,” Šližys said. “We have a common history of oppression under the Soviet regime, and we feel that Ukrainians are now fighting not only for their own freedom, but also for the freedom of Lithuania and all democratic nations threatened by Russia. .”

“Today we are all Ukrainians”

The Lithuanian delegation descended from its church on North 5th Street, with members waving or carrying flags of both nations. Others carried placards and posters with slogans of solidarity like “We are with Ukraine”, “Pray for Ukraine! and “We #standwithukraine.”

Flag colors – blue and gold for Ukraine; gold, green and red for Lithuania – appeared on face masks, ties and scarves. The walkers were approved by the horns of passing motorists. A few women and girls wore traditional Lithuanian clothes.

Joining the procession were Rytis Paulauskas, Lithuanian Ambassador to the United Nations, and Ambassador Vaclovas Salkauskas, Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania in New York.

“Today we are all Ukrainians, without a doubt,” said Paulauskas. “It’s really hard to talk, knowing that your brave men and women are dying – dying in Kyiv, dying in many other places. Fighting for every square inch of territory. Fighting for the state, and also fighting for the choice to be free.

“Freedom has always been important to Lithuania. This has always been important for Ukraine. And we have been blessed throughout history to have stood by your side, together, to fight for freedom.

“In the same boat as us”

Yaroslav said Lithuanians are “in the same boat as us”.

“They were under communism, like all Baltic states and Slavic states,” he added. “They know what it is, and they could be next.”

Father Tyhovych happily accepted the replica of the shrine and promised to display it prominently on the side altar of the church for the whole congregation to see.

The Ukrainian-born pastor said that “as a spiritual person and a priest” he did not want to focus on politics. But he commented on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If you want to see the face of evil, you have to look at Putin,” he said, drawing applause from both congregations. “It is very important that our (American) politicians understand that they are not just dealing with someone who represents their people.

“He terrorizes his own people. He hates his own people. It tries to deceive other people and countries. It is essential for us to rebuke him. He must be expelled. »

At the end of the Ukrainian Mass, everyone from both parishes gathered for a group photo on the steps of Holy Ghost Church.

They chanted in Ukrainian, “Slava Ukraini! Slava heroyam! (Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!).

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