Bombings in Kharkiv, Ukraine  (AFP or licensors)

By Sophie Peeters

Sep 12 2022

As the war in Ukraine grinds on in its seventh month, Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia reflects on the painful situation in his country and what it teaches us about faith in God.

The city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, has been a hot spot of Russia’s invasion since the war began on 24 February of this year.

Numerous bombings have been reported and thousands of people have fled the area.

Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk, the 44-year-old Bishop of the Latin-rite Diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia in Ukraine, has witnessed first-handed the horrors inflicted on people in the region.

In an interview with Vatican News, Bishop Honcharuk says a spiritual battle is present as much as a physical war, saying that war provides an opportunity for people to deepen their relationship with God.

Suffering in Kharkiv

Kharkiv is the second-largest city in Ukraine, with a population of 1.7 million before the war.

Parts of the eastern part of the city have been under Russian control since shortly after the Russian army entered Ukraine in February.

Heavy shelling and destruction in the region is vast, with “scorched-earth” strategies regularly used as a tactic by the Russian army.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukraine on Thursday to pledge further aid at what he called a “pivotal moment,” pledging $2.2 billion in new security assistance to Ukraine and its allies.

This week, Ukraine began a lightning counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, saying the army had recaptured large parts of its territory in the east.

‘Justice’ for the people

Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk served as a military chaplain before the war, and is among the youngest Catholic bishops in the world.

He was appointed Bishop of Karkhiv-Zaporizhia in January 2020, two years before his country came under attack by the Russian army.

What is needed now, the Ukrainian Bishops said, is “justice.”

Justice, he continued, should be at the forefront in terms of importance of the “many resolutions that have been reached during the last years.”

Furthermore, the bishop affirmed that the basic rights of people should always be respected, saying that every “person has the right to live on their territory. Nobody has a right to take it away.”

Consecration to the Heart of Mary

This year, for the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March, Pope Francis consecrated all humanity —especially Russia and Ukraine—to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, saying the act expressed our complete trust in the Virgin Mary in the midst of the “cruel and senseless war” in Ukraine.

Pope Francis recalled that God chose the Virgin Mary to change history by beginning a new story of “salvation and peace.”

In response to this act of solidarity by the Pope, Bishop Honcharuk said it helped the people of Ukraine because of the ongoing spiritual, and not only material, battle involved.

The consecration of the people to Our Lady, Bishop Honcharuk continued, is an invitation for God to be with them in this moment of great difficulty: “God, please be with us,” he prayed.

Using this difficult moment as opportunity to reflect

However, he added, these moments of great difficulty can provide people an opportunity to find God amidst the chaos.

Having a “real relationship” with God can help provide the inner “peace, the hope, and inner strength” the people of Ukraine need to overcome great darkness of conflict, Bishop Honcharuk concluded.

“My invitation is to rethink our people’s own relationship with God.” – Vatican News