Pope Francis yesterday, December 8, in Rome wept silently for about 30 seconds in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, on the occasion of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Rome. He wept as he began to recite a prayer about the suffering in Ukraine, where, tragically, tens of thousands of soldiers, on both sides, and many thousands of Ukrainian civilians, have been killed during 10 months of war. He wept because he has been unsuccessful in trying to initiate a peace process to stop the killing… (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP)

    Letter #122, 2022, Friday, December 9: The Tears of the Pope

    Pope Francis in Rome yesterday, December 8, shed tears publicly over the tragedy of the war in Ukraine, calling the war “a defeat for humanity.”

    He was in Piazza di Spagna, in front of a column capped by a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on a traditional December 8 visit to the piazza for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

    Francis, among all world leaders (I dare to say… perhaps some will sharply disagree, but I dare to make it, willing to accept criticism if it comes) has been the one who has most insisted that the war should be brought to an end by peace talks.

    And he deserves our respect and appreciation for this, I believe.

    This lonely, much-criticized effort of Francis needs to be acknowledged: that Francis, among the world’s leaders, has been the one most focused on ending the killing.

    May God reward him for this, even though until now his efforts have failed, to the point that he himself has been driven to tears.

    Below is an account from Reuters (#1) about what happened and why.


    Then we also include below the talk yesterday (#2) of the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church based in Kiev, Ukraine, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who has been issuing a daily message and video since the beginning of the invasion.


    And finally, just a brief note about the remarkable concert performed last night in Budapest, Hungary — in the very heart of Europe, in a country which bestrides the old border between West and East: Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev‘s “Christmas Oratorio.”

    The concert was well-attended and everything went “very well,” Archbishop Hilarion has communicated to me.

    A video link to the concert will be posted, but it is not yet up.

    Therefore, I would like to suggest a link of a performance I myself helped organize 15 years ago in Washington D.C., in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (the largest Catholic Church in America), on December 17, 2007 — at a time when we thought that, despite 45 years of “Cold war,” a “hot war” between the West and a “post-Soviet” Russia might never need to occur, as we would (we thought) meet together and, yes, listen to music, and then reason together, and eventually come to a mutual understanding, even to an at-first-cautious-but eventually-true, and mutually beneficial, friendship — a relationship of peace, rooted in part in a common tradition of deep Christian faith.

    This hope has been at the heart of my work for 30 years now…

    So here below is a link to a brief video — just 4 minutes — of the Grand Finale of that concert from 15 years ago (the same one that was repeated last night in Budapest).

    Please note: there is a YouTube ad at the very beginning, for a Chinese acrobatic performance, but after a few moments you can click on “skip ads” and go to the Christmas concert.

    The choir sings, in the Russian language, “Glory to God in the highest!” The choir is echoing the words of the angels in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, who were singing for the coming into the world of Jesus, Son of God but also referred to as the “Son of Man.” Our brother, according to the flesh….

    Here below is the link — I hope you may take just two or three minutes to listen to this moving “Grand Finale” (the conductor, Maestro Alexei Puzakov, is one of Hilarion’s closest friends dating back to their teenage years at the Moscow Conservatory under the Soviet regime, 50 years ago, when the two made a pact to try to bring beauty into the world through music).

     Though it was 15 years ago, the music expresses the same hope we feel today, that some divine assistance may help us to find a way toward peace, that the common faith of Catholics and Orthodox in Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, may perhaps assist us to find an “off-ramp” from this terrible war, as we prepare to celebrate the birth 2,000 years ago of that same Christ in just a few days now… —RM

    In Mary, we find many answers to our confusion, our malaise, our doubt, our sinfulness, our estrangement, from God and from ourselves… if we would but look to her!

    And therefore…

    Inside the Vatican presents a stunning new, 100-page special edition, MARY: Behold Your Motherjust now at the press, and available for preorder NOW.

    This is the cover of our new Special Issue celebrating the Virgin Mary. (Printing ended today; copies will be mailed on Monday.)

    We would like to send this issue to churches, shrines, gift shops and Marian groups throughout the United States, and abroad. If you are interested in ordering copies at bulk rates, please contact us at 1-800-789-9494. A blessed Advent to all…


    #1: Ukraine war: Pope Francis weeps as he mentions the suffering of Ukrainians during public prayer (link)

    By Andrea Carlo, for Reuters

    December 8, 2022, Rome

Pope Francis was moved to tears on Thursday while mentioning the suffering of Ukrainians during a traditional public prayer in central Rome.

    The Pontiff found himself swept with emotion and unable to speak for 30 seconds upon calling for peace for the Ukrainian people, who have been fighting Russia’s aggression for over nine months.

    “Immaculate Virgin, today I would have wanted to bring you the thanks of the Ukrainian people [for peace],” he said, as his voice trembled and he found himself having to stop.

    The crowd, including city mayor Roberto Gualtieri who was standing to the Pope’s side, applauded when they realised he was unable to talk and saw him crying.

    Francis eventually managed to continue, his voice cracking: “Instead, once again I have to bring you the pleas of children, of the elderly, of fathers and mothers, of the young people of that martyred land, which is suffering so much.”

    The prayer was part of the Pope’s annual ceremony to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a public holiday and 168-year-old tradition which kickstarts Italy’s Christmas season.

    Held at the foot of the Madonna’s statue near the city’s iconic Spanish Steps, the piazza was teaming with crowds eager to meet the wheelchair-bound Pontiff, who took his time to greet those attending.

    The Pope — who has mentioned Ukraine in almost all of his public appearances and has taken an increasingly critical stance towards Moscow — further commented on the conflict when speaking to a journalist at the event.

    “Yes. It [the war in Ukraine] is an enormous suffering, enormous. A defeat for humanity,” Francis said.

    Shortly after his intervention, Rome lit up its iconic Christmas lights on Via del Corso, the city’s main thoroughfare, which also included a plea for peace seemingly intended for Ukraine.

    “There is no salvation in war: oh, peace, we all beg for you,” the giant message read, quoting ancient Roman poet Virgil.

    [End, Reuters story on the tears of Pope Francis]

    #2: Here is a heartfelt message issued yesterday by Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, speaking from Kiev. (link) He has issued a message every day since the beginning of the war almost 10 months ago.

    Thursday, December 8, 2022

    Video message of His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Head and Father of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on the 288th day of war in Ukraine (December 8, 2022) (link)

    By Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

    Today is Thursday 8 December 2022 and Ukraine is already experiencing the 288th day of a full-scale Russian military invasion of the peaceful Ukrainian land.

    During the last day and the last night, Ukraine was bleeding. This is the description of our land today as mountains of corpses, rivers of blood, and a sea of tears are constantly before our eyes. Heavy fighting is taking place along the entire front line, but the biggest epicentre of the military confrontation is in two cities of the Donetsk region: Bakhmut and Avdiyivka. Some are already calling Bakhmut the new Stalingrad, after which the enemy will probably be forced to flee from our Motherland. But our girls and boys, who are holding the defence there, ask you to pray for them. Therefore, I ask you to remember in your prayers those who really shield our Ukrainian land with their bodies. Our Armed Forces are slowly advancing to Luhansk region, although the enemy has been completely mining the Ukrainian territory. It is not for nothing that today they say that Ukraine is the most polluted territory with various kinds of explosive material. Every day, the enemy lays thousands of mines and bombs in the Ukrainian land as future sprouts of death.

    Again, the enemy struck our heroic Mykolayiv. It had been quieter there for several weeks. And hit, we hear, at a depot, where many buses that served the residents of this city burned completely. The enemy is again tirelessly shelling Kherson and the Kherson region, the territory that was just liberated. And it interferes with any efforts of our authorities to establish some kind of normal life there. Disturbing news is coming to us from occupied Zaporizhzhia. In Melitopol, the Russians begin a violent mobilization of Ukrainian citizens, handing out summons and forcing them to take up arms. This is another type of war crime, a violation of international law and all that we can today call the rule of law.

    Despite the difficult circumstances, the power outages, the cold, the lack of the most necessary things for life, Ukrainians are holding on heroically. The indomitability of the Ukrainian people is not diminishing, but on the contrary, the will to fight is growing before our eyes. Solidarity and mutual support are gaining unprecedented proportions. Therefore, today we can proudly say: Ukraine is standing! Ukraine is fighting! Ukraine is praying!

    Today, I want to conclude our thoughts with you on how, even in the conditions of war, we should ensure the educational process in our schools. A school in wartime is something very unusual, something that seems to contradict itself. But Ukraine stands and the Ukrainian school works, doing everything in order to ensure the future of our children.

    Today I want to think with you about how to really help our scholars and teachers responsible for the school program to develop and improve it. Sometimes, when you listen to our school graduates, our students, and our adults, they often say that the school prepared them for everything, except for real life. We see how in the conditions of the modern environment of open information of society, the very role of the teacher plays a completely different meaning today. Often, the school teacher is no longer the main source of information in the learning of his students, but rather is like a traffic controller at a crowded intersection. The regulator that points the way to knowledge points the way to sources of information. And sometimes the most important thing is to teach how to learn. To teach students how to take care of their own growth, growth in particular in the search for new knowledge and new skills. Therefore, the school programme needs constant modernization. And we are asked how, on the one hand, not to burden the school curriculum, but, on the other hand, how to teach children what will be useful for them in life. Well, this question is always open. Here I want to recall an ancient Roman proverb that says: “non scholae, sed vitae discimus” — “We learn not for school, but for life.”

    That is why it is so important in the list of subjects to really have a place for those educational hours or for those various subjects of a worldview character.

    We already spoke about the importance of finding a place for an interfaith subject called “Christian Ethics.” Because it is so important for us to raise dignified and responsible citizens, and for the Church to raise worthy and responsible Christians. And here I think that by focusing on the education of certain principles and foundations in the lives of our students, we will then be able to prepare them for a dignified life, to teach them to learn on their own, and moreover, to teach them how to put these values, principles, and life guidelines later into practice to use as the golden treasure they took from their school. We say that parents are truly the main educators of children. But not only children, but also parents need a teacher, whom we call a teacher from God. That is, a teacher for whom upbringing and education is not just the main meaning of his life, but one who has a special pedagogical gift. Because we often know that there are many wise, scientific workers who have a lot of knowledge, but do not know how to transmit it. There are many who study and want to teach others, but do not know how to do it. And they say: “There are many learned people, but there are few who are wise.” That is why we need to especially respect those teachers and pedagogues who have a special pedagogical talent, a gift from God. Because they can help parents be the educators of their children, but really show the way in life for their students. Such a teacher, such a pedagogue, such a teacher, will not be forgotten by his students for the rest of their lives. May the Lord God bless our teachers with all the graces they need in order to prepare their students for a difficult life and become their guides in their adult and difficult life.

    Today I want to especially thank all those responsible in various international structures who help Ukraine to record the war crimes of the Russians. Yesterday, another report, another presentation on mass executions of civilians in Ukraine, was published. This is a United Nations report and it is incredible. On its pages we read that only in the three occupied regions of Ukraine during the first six weeks of the Russian occupation, the murder of 441 civilians has already been proven. Out of these, 341 are men, 72 are women, 20 are boys, and 8 are girls. We understand that those figures are a drop in the ocean of Ukrainian grief and pain, and a drop in the ocean of crimes that Russia is committing in Ukraine. How important it is to collect and record these crimes, piece by piece, so that they can then be officially condemned in an international tribunal! Because without documenting and condemning crimes, it will be impossible to achieve peace in Ukraine. Without naming the murderers and honouring the victims, it is impossible to talk about the process of reconciliation between peoples. That is why we are asking today: help Ukraine to document Russia’s war crimes! Therefore, we will need the world to condemn these crimes at the international level, because if they are not condemned, unfortunately they will be able to repeat them, as was the case with the crimes of Hitlerism or Stalinism. The crimes of Hitlerism were condemned at the Nuremberg trials, the crimes of Communism were not. Therefore, Communist ideology, which changes like a hydra, in Russian modern ideology and continues to kill. We must do everything to stop this chain of blind violence, to stop this sacrilegious war against man that is taking place today in Ukraine.

    O God, bless Ukraine! O God bless our military girls and boys at the front! O God, release all the imprisoned and illegally detained prisoners of war and captives of war of Ukraine! O God, help us free our Fathers Ivan and Bohdan from torture and imprisonment! O God, bless Ukraine with Your just, heavenly peace!

    May the blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love of mankind, always, now and ever, and for ages of ages. Amen.

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    +Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk

    Note: Archbishop Shevchuk is the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (this Church is Catholic, in union with Rome, but celebrates the liturgy according to the Byzantine rite, which is the rite also used by the world’s Orthodox Churches). This Church was abolished under the orders of Stalin in 1946, and survived underground from 1946 until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was again allowed to exist. This is why the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is considered a Church that is a type of “bridge” between the Catholic and the Orthodox. This is why this Church might be able to play a very special role in bringing peace to Ukraine, and the world. —RM

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