I’m 37. On March 1, I became a soldier in the Armed Forces of Ukraine to protect my country and my people. Hundreds of thousands of my compatriots made the same choice. For me, as a Christian, this is one of the greatest manifestations of love and the fulfillment of the commandment of Jesus Christ: "Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15: 12-13)
Several months ago, my unit was stationed in the northern part of the Kyiv region. We were in one of the villages liberated by our troops a day before. We had a break and were standing on the central street of the destroyed village. A woman approached me. From her looks, she was of my mom’s age. She was thin and withered — she spent 40 days in a desert of Russian occupation. In her village, Russians robbed people of food and firewood, and executed men. Our eyes met, and she said: "I’m praying for you, for all our soldiers, because you are killing Russians, liberating our villages, and giving people a chance to survive. If you are no more, Russians will kill us all. You freed us and will free others. I will pray for all of you to stay alive."
While on a mission, several days after, I happened to stay at a place discovered by a Russian scout. We were at our positions, and suddenly a signal rocket highlighted our positions. After maybe several dozen seconds, Russian artillery started its attack. I was hiding in a shelter with other soldiers and listening to Russian shells exploding near us. In pauses between explosions, I was remembering that somewhere in her village, that woman was praying for us.
On Easter Eve, the Vatican announced that this year a Ukrainian woman and a Russian woman would carry the cross together during a Holy Procession at one of the stations. That was when my friend called me. He knew I have an MA in Theology, so he asked for an explanation: "How can they put together a victim and an offender that has not even repented? Have the relatives of the victims killed in the World Trade Center, and terrorists of al-Qaeda carried the cross together? Or Jews and Nazis in 1944? Why does your Pope allow doing that now? What are you going to do about this disgrace as a Christian, as a Catholic?" I answered: "You know, all our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is praying at each mass. We pray for Ukrainian warriors, for the Ukrainian people. Also, we pray for Pope Francis. Now I have no chance to attend our masses, but I will pray for Pope Francis in my private prayers."
These days, when my church is celebrating Pentecost, I pray for Pope Francis with a special appeal. I ask the Holy Spirit to give Pope Francis His gifts.
I pray for the Holy Spirit to give Pope Francis the gift of wisdom and the gift of reason. As Jesus opened the minds of His pupils on the way to Emmaus to help them finally understand the Scriptures, I pray for wisdom and reason to open the mind of the Pope. I pray that the faithful of the Catholic Church will see that in the actions and words of the Pope. Because currently, while reading Pope’s Twitter and listening to his speeches, I have a weird feeling. The Pope calls for peace and expresses sorrow for the perished but does not say a word about who has started the war, who is killing Ukrainians, who are raping Ukrainian women and dropping bombs on Ukrainian children. Russian leadership started the war against Ukraine, and this war continues for over eight years. Russian soldiers kill my compatriots by orders of their officers. Russian pilots drop bombs on Ukrainian children. Russians rape Ukrainian women. Peace will return only when the Russian people stop committing genocide against the Ukrainian people and when the last Russian soldier disappears from my land.
I pray for the Holy Spirit to give Pope Francis the gift of courage. During the Pentecost, we commemorate the first days of the Church and read about how apostles received not only the gift of tongues but also the courage to testify. They were not afraid to preach the story of the resurrection of Jesus, and for this sermon, they had to tell the story of His life not in vague language but as solid facts. Apostles, like hundreds and thousands of the first preachers, had enough courage to voice the fact that priests Caiaphas and Annas, King Herod, and prefect Pontius Pilate were accomplices in the torture and murder of Jesus Christ. I expect the leaders of the Catholic Church of today also to be ready to testify the truth: that the leadership of Russia and President Putin, in particular, have started the genocide against the Ukrainian people, that soldiers of Russia are obediently executing their orders, and that Russian people support this war. We all have seen horrific pictures from Bucha, Irpin, and Borodianka. I happened to be in these cities when they were just liberated. I will remember this horror until the end of my life. I will also remember who shot and who gave the order to shoot from a tank at the house with a "DISABLED PERSON LIVES HERE!" warning on the gate.
I pray for the Holy Spirit to give Pope Francis the gift of counsel. Jesus promised that this gift would be given to those who believe in Him. "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say." (Luke 12: 11-12) The Pope often says and writes, "the conflict in Ukraine will cause even more famine and deaths." That is true: our grain, soy, and sunflower feed tens of millions of people in developing countries, in particular, in Africa. However, "the conflict" that is not the cause of famine and deaths. Russia, Russian authorities, Russian soldiers, and Russian diplomats are the cause of the wave of deaths that we will see across the world. Russian ships block our ports. Russian planes bomb our elevators. Russian soldiers steal our grain — grain produced by the sweat and blood of Ukrainian farmers. That is why I pray for the Holy Spirit to help the leader of the Catholic Church finally to acknowledge publicly who and how is starting a new worldwide wave of famine.
I pray for the Holy Spirit to give Pope Francis the gift of knowledge. The Pope says he is with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people during these hard times. Ukrainian soldiers are also with Ukrainians — they are protecting their people from Russian invaders. According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, 60 to 100 of our soldiers are dying every day. It is a daily sacrifice that the Ukrainian people pay for their struggle against the enemy that is trying to eradicate us. How many are "from 60 to 100" people? It is easy to imagine. Walking just a few minutes from Saint Peter’s Square to Risorgimento square will be enough. When you get there, just wait for a tram full of people to stop at a station. Now imagine how this tram explodes with all its passengers. That is how Ukrainians who just want to protect their people from genocide are dying every day from Russian bullets, rockets, and bombs.
I pray for the Holy Spirit to give Pope Francis the gift of piety and the gift of fear of the Lord. These two particular gifts help people to be exemplary citizens and leaders — to be trustworthy guides for their communities. In University I studied the history of the Church and I know from lectures and books that Vatican diplomacy in search of common ground with Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church for years implemented the "ostpolitik". Attempts to build ecumenical communion with the Russian Orthodox Church have prevented the Vatican from publicly and loudly condemning the crimes committed by the Russian Federation for decades. Results of this "ostpolitik" speak for themselves: there was no condemnation of Russians and Russia for the war in Georgia, the Church remained silent about the ongoing extermination by Russians of Crimean Tatars in the occupied Crimea, ignored the fact that Russian planes bombarded civil objects in Aleppo, that Russian soldiers killed the crew and several hundreds of passengers of the MH17 flight.
The modern world doesn't lack diplomats who work in the interests of their countries and think in terms of "I give to you, and you give to me." But the Church has a much more important task than international relations, and it is a testimony of the truth.
Every day I pray for the leaders of the Catholic Church to see the truth that will make them free to testify the truth clearly and directly, without diplomatic suppressions that do not bring peace closer but just feed the tyranny that is murdering neighboring peoples for years. The world can help Ukraine to overcome Russia and Putin who are destroying my country and killing my people every day. We ask the world to help us to defeat the enemy as soon as possible. The Vatican cannot send us tanks, missiles or cannons. Instead, the Vatican and Pope Francis can use the most powerful weapon: the word of truth.
Andrii Andrushkiv, sergeant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Theology MA of the Ukrainian Catholic University, CEO of the Centre of United Actions