Faithful in the Philadelphia Archdiocese have begun the “rich and blessed season of Lent” with “heavy hearts” from the war in Ukraine, said Archbishop Nelson Pérez.

The archbishop was the principal celebrant and homilist at a noontime Ash Wednesday Mass March 2 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

Joining him on the altar were Father Roman Pitula, rector of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia; Father Ruslan Borovyi, pastor of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Philadelphia; and Father Yaroslav Lukavenko of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia – all natives of Ukraine, with family and friends still in that country.

“Today we are blessed to have with us three of our Ukrainian brother priests, (whom) I had the pleasure of praying with on Sunday afternoon,” said Archbishop Pérez, referencing a Feb. 27 vespers service hosted by the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, with Archbishop Borys Gudziak, metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, presiding and members of the Religious Leaders Council and Interfaith Philadelphia in attendance.

Archbishop Pérez offered the Ash Wednesday liturgy “for the people of Ukraine, there and here,” as part of a “Day of Fasting for Peace for Ukraine” announced by Pope Francis, who prayed “the Queen of Peace (would) preserve the world from the madness of war.”

This Lenten season “finds the world (amid) atrocities being committed,” leaving millions “horrified … of what we human beings are actually capable of,” said Archbishop Pérez. “After so many millennia, we just don’t learn.”

Speaking after the Mass, Father Borovyi said “in Ukraine there are a lot of ashes nowadays, and not just symbolic. … ashes from hospitals, from universities, from cities that are already bombed. And these ashes are mixed with blood, with tears.”

Father Roman Pitula, rector of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, speaks with Sister Gertrude Borres, R.S.A. after a midday Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. (Gina Christian)

“Our children are being born in bomb shelters, and our children are dying because of bombs and shelling,” said Father Lukavenko.

Father Pitula said his extended family, whose members live near the western city of Lviv, are “distressed” but trying to remain “hopeful” amid frequent trips to their basements to shelter in place.

“It’s tragic,” he said. “We are a God-loving and peace-loving nation. We never invaded anyone over our 1,500-year-history. We want this war to be stopped immediately. If one person dies, it’s already too many.”

Amid the Lenten season and its disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, Christians and all people of the world are “united in solidarity and prayer for the people of Ukraine,” said Archbishop Pérez.

Quoting author Tony Agnesi, the archbishop said “there is power in those ashes” of Lent.

Father Borovyi agreed.

“I hope God … really gives power to those ashes, that Ukraine could stand against the Russian enemy,” he said.

“Cease the fire,” said Father Pitula. “And don’t cease the prayer.”

Father Yaroslav Lukavenko (left) and Father Ruslan Borovyi, priests of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, concelebrated a midday Ash Wednesday liturgy with Archbishop Nelson Pérez March 2 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. (Photo by Gina Christian)