Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Past memories and present nightmares

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine saddens me deeply for a number of reasons. First, world peace is being threatened like no other time since the Cuban missile crisis. That bone-chilling prospect of nuclear war, which has been threatened, should force us all to take this moment seriously.

At the same time, this action is a violation of human rights and national sovereignty of a country that has rebuilt itself over the past 30 years as a peaceful democracy and contributor to the common good of the world.

I have been to Ukraine six times and came to admire the progress that this former Soviet vassal state has made as it entered the family of free and prosperous nations. Its people have worked hard to make great progress and now that is being destroyed.

There is also the tragedy of Ukrainians being forced to relive many of the horrors they suffered during World War II. It is estimated that 4 million Ukrainian civilians, including 1 million Jews, died in the war, and that does not include over 2 million who served in the military and lost their lives. Since the recent Russian invasion, more than 4.7 million refugees have since left Ukraine, while an estimated 7.1 million people have been displaced within the country.

The Ukrainian people had every right to think that their history of war was in the distant past, but now they see that this is not the case. That memory of the past has returned as a present nightmare.

We also are witnessing the violation of human rights and dignity as atrocities and war crimes come to light. One can only imagine how disheartened this unprovoked invasion is leaving the people of this nascent democracy, particularly as they remember the past.

On one of my visits, a bishop gave me a tour of his new eparchial offices, which were in a former government building — in fact, it had been a Soviet prison. The bishop renovated it with the help of American Catholics through the annual collection for Central and Eastern Europe.

I enjoyed visiting the renovated spaces on the top two floors. There were plenty of windows for sunlight, connecting the church with the world. The rooms were handsomely appointed with colorful furnishings and tasteful wall hangings.

Then the bishop took me to the basement. It was in these dark and dingy spaces that prisoners were kept and tortured. From the walls hung chains that restrained inmates, and on those walls remained their scribbles of names and dates.

The bishop told me that he and his community decided to leave the basement as they found it. He wanted future generations to know that the work that was being carried out for the church upstairs was possible because of those who suffered oppression in the basement. “We need to remember where we came from,” the bishop told me, “so that we will never take for granted the freedom that was won.” 

I thought of that visit this week. Sadly, there will now be new basements of suffering, as people shelter from the onslaught of war — hungry and besieged. Let us pray that this brutality will end soon.

We must also let the Ukrainian people know through our support and contributions that we stand with them and that we will do all we can to make sure that war once again becomes a thing of the past.

We pray that the day may come soon when they can ascend from the basement of suffering and continue their efforts to build a democratic, free and independent nation.



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