Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Ukraine: the right to exist

July 5, 2023

Over the last two weeks of June, I visited Poland and Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian refugees who fled their country after the Russian invasion that began in February 2022. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

First, a profound sadness came over me. I met people of all ages who were forced to flee their homeland. They told stories of family members killed defending their country, of the destruction of their towns and homes. With a moment’s notice, they had to pick up and leave behind their lives and livelihoods, fearing for their very existence. More than 14 million have been displaced, many of them children, disrupting their education and leaving them afraid of the future.

I traveled to areas where people were massacred for no reason other than they were walking down the street or searching for food. At the site of the mass grave in Bucha, which has been widely reported, local people shared their experiences of this and other atrocities they suffered at the hands of invaders.

At an orphanage I visited in Poland, hundreds of children from Ukraine await peace and safety in their homeland. They are being well cared for, but, as they expressed in a video conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, they want to know when they can return home.

I walked through cemeteries newly created to bury soldiers and other victims of the war, prayed in a church that has seen more than 500 funerals since the war began. Both have become memorials, as photos of those killed were on display. Most were so young.

Yet, amid this tragedy, I witnessed extraordinary heroism and generosity. The people of Poland have been generously providing food, shelter, clothes, education and jobs for millions who have crossed over from Ukraine. Their welcoming response to asylum-seekers serves as a call to conscience, forcing us to interrogate our own country’s attitudes toward the stranger in need.

There are many ways each of us can do our part to help. For example, the Archdiocese of Chicago has offered some support to the Archdiocese of Łódź, as it builds temporary housing for newcomers. Likewise, aid workers and religious orders in Ukraine and Poland have provided assistance within Ukraine itself. And on one of my last days in Ukraine, I met a group of Basilian Sisters who have been offering shelter and assistance in their monasteries throughout the country, even where the battle is raging. Their important work has been aided in part by the Catholic Extension Society here in Chicago.

There is something undeniably heroic in the ways Ukrainians continue to live each day with hope and generosity. Even in the face of missile and drone attacks, they carry on with their ordinary pace of life in the cities and villages, confident that their nation will prevail in its self-defense. Their resilience is inspiring, as is their ability to adapt to developments that are totally out of their control. They seem to have a sense of their place in the world community, and they will not be robbed of their national identity. A sense of unity and common purpose has brought them together, and I believe that is partly why the world has responded with support. The Ukrainian people have much to teach us in that regard.

No doubt the Ukrainian people deserve our support. We should be willing to stand with them in a way that recognizes the threat to their very existence as a people with their own history, culture, language, tradition and heritage. The example the Ukrainian people are giving the world in defending their self-determination inspires us all to stand in solidarity with them — not only for their future, but also for our own.

Photo: Cardinal Cupich visits the Field of Honorable Burials during his June 2023 visit to Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of the Press Center of Ukrainian Catholic University)


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