By Devin Watkins
The Basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere, not far from the Vatican, played host to a special prayer vigil on Wednesday evening, which saw Catholics gather to pray for peace in Ukraine.
The event came in response to Pope Francis’ request for a day of prayer for peace in the Eastern European nation, so that fraternity might overcome the threat of renewed war.
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher presided over the celebration, as diplomats from four European nations met separately in Paris to discuss the crisis.
Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and held live-fire exercises, leading to fears of a full-blown invasion.
Silencing the winds of war
“May the winds of war be silenced,” urged Archbishop Gallagher at the prayer vigil. “May the wounds of men, women, and children be preserved from the horrors of conflict.”
He expressed the solidarity of all the Catholic faithful with the people of Ukraine as they face the spectre of war.
The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States highlighted the disparity between those who threaten war and those who become its victims.
“These are painful situations that deprive so many men of even the most fundamental rights,” he said. But even more scandalous, he added, “is to see that those who suffer most from conflicts are not those who decide whether or not to start them, but are above all those who are only helpless victims of them.”
Promoting peace among all
The Archbishop lamented the pain endured by entire nations as a result of “carefully calculated actions carried out in a systemic manner,” rather than by natural disasters or events beyond human control.
He recalled that all humanity is called to promote peace, since God has made us all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Archbishop Gallagher said Christians must recognize our links to both those who cause war and those who endure its consequences. So, he added, we must present all parties to God the Father, and invoke upon all the Lord’s gift of peace.
Active prayer for change
At the same time as we pray for peace, said the Archbishop, we must also not remain passive in waiting for leaders to sign agreements.
We do not “limit ourselves to waiting for agreements and truces to be reached and respected,” he said, “but we work so that a new humanity may be reborn in us and in all hearts.”
Peace is contagious, concluded Archbishop Gallagher. “May the Holy Spirit make all people, especially the leaders of nations, workers of peace.”
Ongoing political discussions
As the prayer vigil took place on Wednesday, political advisors from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France met in Paris to discuss the 2015 Minsk agreements.
The group reaffirmed their commitment to the ceasefire signed after Russia annexed Crimea and Kremlin-backed separatists took control of Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Russia’s chief negotiator said afterwards that the talks were “not simple” but that he hoped positions could be narrowed.