More than 600 faithful from various Christian dominations in the Columbia area attended a solemn prayer vigil at Holy Trinity Church in the heart of the town on Monday evening, March 14, to pray for the people of Ukraine. Pastors from churches making up the Columbia Area Ministerium of Churches were hosted by Father Stephen Kelley, pastor of Holy Trinity, and Father Michael Letteer, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Spring Grove. The vigil was conceived and organized by John Leaman, a parishioner at Holy Trinity.
The Auxiliary Bishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, Most Reverend Andriy Rabiy, attended the vigil and delivered remarks concerning his homeland, which has been under attack for the past month by Russian forces. Millions have had to flee to Poland and other European countries to escape the targeted Russian aggression against civilians.
“Since February 24, millions of Ukrainians have lost that peace we have had for 30-plus years now,” Bishop Rabiy said. “I remember the days living in Ukraine under the Soviet Union, and the evil it reigned on our people. There was no freedom; no freedom of religion, and you had to believe the way government officials did or else.”
Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, behind Russia, and is home to more than 43 million citizens. Nearly 90 percent of the country is Christian. It is also Europe’s largest grain producer, given its fertile plains that are enriched by mountain snow runoff and then temperate climate despite its northern latitude. In 1991, when the disunion and collapse of the Soviet Union occurred, Ukraine embraced a democratic legislative oriented government.
“The entire history of an independent Ukraine has been a peaceful one,” Bishop Rabiy stressed. “But somebody became very envious and jealous of what Ukraine has, and he invaded our country because of that envy…. This war is evil – it does no good for humanity everywhere. This aggression comes from the devil himself.”
In his closing remarks, Father Kelley emphasized that while this war is horrible, we must not have vengeance in our hearts nor loathe our enemies. “We are all a part of the mystical Body of Christ,” Father Kelley said. “God does hear our prayers and answers them…. Prayer is a weapon, not to destroy, but to save. We pray for the innocent, and we pray for the guilty. We must pray for love, and it needs to begin with each one of us.”
Father Kelley closed the vigil by encouraging all to give to charitable organizations who are assisting displaced Ukrainian refugees. The Diocese has encouraged donations to the Humanitarian Aid Fund for Ukraine through the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Donations can be online by visiting www.ukrarcheparchy.us and then clicking on “Donate via PayPal.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness