’Ukrainians are fighting for the same freedom we have’

In this June 29 image, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich and Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia inspect a memorial near Irpin, Ukraine made of cars shelled by Russian troops as Ukrainian civilians attempted to flee the area in 2022.
In this June 29 image, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich and Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia inspect a memorial near Irpin, Ukraine made of cars shelled by Russian troops as Ukrainian civilians attempted to flee the area in 2022.

LVIV and IRPIN, Ukraine — As they defend "their very existence as a people," Ukrainians "(inspire) us all to stand in solidarity … not only for their future, but our own," said Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.

The cardinal shared his thoughts in a July 5 commentary published at ChicagoCatholic.com, website of the Archdiocese of Chicago's newspaper, following a late June visit of solidarity to Ukraine.

Cardinal Cupich met June 25 with Ukrainian refugees receiving assistance at St. Urszula Ledóchowska Parish in Lódz, Poland. In a video message recorded two days later at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, Cardinal Cupich said he was "inspired by the countless ways" various individuals and organizations provided places of welcome that were secure as well as "nourishing" for those displaced by the war, which continues attacks Russia launched in 2014.

Crossing into Ukraine, the cardinal toured the campus of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv June 28 and spoke with residents of the school's Emmaus Center, an on-campus community for persons with disabilities. Later that day, a delegation from the university escorted him to the city's Garrison Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Lviv, the main church of Ukraine's military chaplaincy and part of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Lviv. He then visited Lviv's Lychakiv Cemetery, where the military "Field of Honorary Burials" regularly sees three to four interments of fallen soldiers per day.

"The price Ukrainians pay for their freedom is too high. I always reiterate in America that Ukrainians are fighting for the same freedom we have, for the opportunity to determine their own future," said Cardinal Cupich while in Lviv. "That is why the democratic world must unite and bear the burden of war with Ukrainians. After all, in many ways, we are all Ukrainians today because we strive for self-determination and freedom so that no one from outside dictates to us who we are and how we should act."

With Ukraine marking its Constitution Day June 28, the cardinal said the nation asserted "to the entire free world" the "rights and freedoms" guaranteed by its defining document, with soldiers paying "the ultimate price so that the constitution and the people who are served by it can continue."

In Kyiv, Cardinal Cupich met with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, with whom he discussed ways to aid Ukraine in healing the wounds of war. The conversation also focused on the war's impact on children and on the disruption of education, as well as the assistance American psychologists can provide to Ukrainians traumatized by the war, which has counted more than 88,000 atrocities by Russian troops since February 2022 alone, according to Ukraine's prosecutor general.

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and Caritas Ukraine president Tetiana Stawnychy accompanied the cardinal to the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God in Irpin, where pastor Father Vitaliy Voetsa showed the bullet holes and shrapnel sustained by the church amid Russian occupation.

"This damage is (now) one tenth of what it was," Father Voetsa, speaking in Ukrainian with Archbishop Gudziak translating into English, told the cardinal.

Following a briefing on the parish's wartime humanitarian aid to civilians, Cardinal Cupich told OSV News he was impressed by "the creative ways they're trying to normalize life for kids."

"I think that's the most important thing," he said. "They're taking a very holistic approach to this, realizing that it is not just enough to give kids food, shelter, clothing (and) medical care, but also to attend to how their morale is, and the psychological impact this is having on them."

Preserving a record of Russian atrocities also was essential, said Cardinal Cupich, who stopped at a memorial of destroyed civilian cars that had been fired on by invading troops as residents fled the area.

Stawnychy said the cars sometimes displayed white flags or signs indicating children were inside, while Father Voetsa and Archbishop Gudziak noted that the attacks incinerated vehicle occupants, making rescue and identification of victims almost impossible in some cases.

"This had no military advantage at all, other than to terrorize," said Cardinal Cupich, adding that the collection of cars in one place showed the cumulative impact of the atrocities.

Along with Irpin, the cardinal also traveled to Bucha, where the bodies of close to 460 Ukrainian civilians were found, with 116 buried in a mass grave near the Orthodox Church of St. Andrew the First Called Apostle following targeted Russian attacks on noncombatants.

Returning to Lviv, Cardinal Cupich attended a July 1 graduation liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic University, telling those present that during his time in Ukraine he had "seen many tears of the sufferings of the past," but that "(looking) out at the graduates, I also see the future."

Visiting immediately afterward with Basilian Sisters in Lviv, he met with a refugee family and learned of the order's efforts to provide humanitarian support, nonlethal military aid and pastoral care to both internally displaced Ukrainians and to those unable to leave front line areas.

Basilian Sister Lucia Murashko — who lives in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, amid the Russian-occupied region of the same name — shared photographs and stories of the sisters' ministry to the most vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. The work is partly supported by the Chicago-based nonprofit Catholic Extension, of which Cardinal Cupich is chancellor.

Along with making camouflage netting for soldiers and bringing desperately needed supplies to civilians, Sister Lucia said she and her fellow Basilians ensure those they serve receive catechesis and access to the sacraments.

At the same time, "I cannot explain how (much) they want to stay in their homes," she told Cardinal Cupich.

Just days after the visit, a July 6 Russian missile strike destroyed an apartment building within 600 feet of UCU, killing 10 and wounding some 40, while shattering several windows and doors on the UCU campus. In a July 7 tweet, the cardinal called for prayers for the victims of both the attack and the war as a whole.

"Amid this tragedy, I witnessed extraordinary heroism and generosity," the cardinal wrote in his post-visit commentary. "There is something undeniably heroic in the ways Ukrainians continue to live each day with hope and generosity. … No doubt the Ukrainian people deserve our support. We should be willing to stand with them."

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