As faithful prepare to celebrate Pentecost, an upcoming novena will seek the Holy Spirit’s intervention to bring peace and justice to war-torn Ukraine.
The archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees (PCMR) is sponsoring a “Pilgrimage Novena for World Peace” May 27 to June 5. The initiative consists of nine online sessions, capped by an in-person Taizé prayer service – which combines chant, readings and meditations — at St. Francis de Sales Parish in West Philadelphia.
Each evening will feature images from and reflections on Ukraine, now entering the fourth month of a full-scale Russian invasion that has killed thousands of lives while displacing some 14 million.
Archbishop Borys Gudziak, metropolitan for Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S., said during a recent visit to West Catholic Preparatory School that “some 200 young lives” if not more are now being lost each day to the war, which continues Russian military attacks on Ukraine initially launched in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the backing of separatist regions in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Members of the local Ukrainian Catholic community will lead the pilgrimage novena’s opening segment, with a diverse range of area Catholic organizations heading up successive sessions, including the Filipino Assumption Alumnae Abroad, the Filipino FIAT Prayer Group, the St. Agatha-St. James Parish (Philadelphia) Young Adult Group, the African Catholic Young Adult Group, and the Religious Sisters of the Assumption communities in West Philadelphia and Worcester, Mass., as well as the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Ministry and Office for the New Evangelization.
During the gatherings, which will take place via Zoom, participants will virtually visit cities in Ukraine ravaged by Russian attacks and atrocities, such as Bucha and Chernihiv. Photographs will be paired with the words of Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church, who has issued daily video messages (at points recorded from a bomb shelter) since the start of the latest invasion in February of this year.
Sessions can be accessed via Zoom at https://zoom.us/join, using meeting ID 873 7272 1372 and the password Pentecost. From May 27 through June 4, the online gatherings will take place from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., except for June 3, when the start time will be 9 p.m.
The June 5 in-person prayer service at St. Francis de Sales Parish, located at 4625 Springfield Avenue in West Philadelphia, will begin at 5 p.m.
The novena’s format is similar that of an April 3 “Stations of the Cross for Ukraine” coordinated by PCMR director and Religious Sister of the Assumption Gertrude Borres and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who once again teamed up to present the pilgrimage novena.
“As the war grinds on, we just need to have our faith strengthened for us to catch a glimmer of hope,” said Sister Gertrude.
She admitted the need for spiritual refreshment hits home.
“The news keeps telling us about the destruction and the atrocities, and especially about evil that can really take over the world,” said Sister Gertrude. “Honestly, I felt so helpless, I found myself saying, ‘God, when is this going to end?’”
The brutality of the invasion, which has targeted civilians and prompted multinational calls for war crime investigations, had left her feeling as if she were “bring brought downward into the spiral of darkness and hopelessness,” she said.
An archdiocesan workshop on missionary discipleship earlier this month provided the inspiration for the novena, Sister Gertrude said.
“I was touched by the fact that (a speaker) was saying that the portal is the heart,” she said. “You have to look into the heart, into your faith life.”
Seated alongside local Ukrainian Catholic priests Father Volodymyr Radko and Father Roman Pitula, she broached the idea of another prayer collaboration – one that aligned with the celebration of Pentecost.
“This has to be the Holy Spirit; only he can see us through this,” said Sister Gertrude. “His presence will renew the face of the earth.”
The novena’s conclusion with the June 5 Taizé prayer service St. Francis de Sales is a fitting one, since the French-based Taizé community – known for its simple chants and ecumenism – was born amid the Second World War.
Then as now, the focus remains the same, said Sister Gertrude.
“Why don’t we ask the Holy Spirit to heal, to reconcile, to bring peace?” she said.
For more information on the Pilgrimage Novena for World Peace, visit the Facebook page of the archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.
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