Hours after the outbreak of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, a Mass celebrated every Thursday morning by the Polish community in Rome at the tomb of St. John Paul II took on a special significance. Poland, already hosting more than a million Ukrainian refugees since the conflict began in 2014, is watching this war with great anxiety.
“Let us urge, during this Eucharist, peace for those who suffer in Ukraine,” urged Archbishop Grzegorz Ryś at the beginning of this ceremony. The archbishop of Łódź, a city in central Poland, concelebrated the Mass with about 60 priests, including Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the cardinal in charge of the Pope’s charitable activities.
About 150 people were present, according to a participant interviewed by I.MEDIA.
The KAI agency, linked to the Polish bishops’ conference, reports that at the end of his homily, Archbishop Ryś dwelt on this exhortation given by Jesus to his disciples: “Live in peace among yourselves” (Mk 9:50).
“I have no influence on what Mr. Putin decides”
“Today we will probably debate and talk a lot about Ukraine, about what is happening there,” the Polish archbishop acknowledged, inviting his compatriots to build peace first in the simple relationships of everyday life. “Is this not the moment to shake hands with someone, to finally forgive someone to whom you have refused forgiveness for years?” he asked.
“Keep the peace between you! Maybe that’s the little thing we can start with. Who knows if world peace doesn’t depend on it,” he asked.
He acknowledged that everyone can say to themselves, “I have no influence on what happens in Ukraine, I have no influence on what Mr. Putin decides.”
“But you have a real influence on what happens between you and your brother. Keep the peace between you,” pleaded the Archbishop of Łódź.
Loyalty to John Paul II, builder of Polish-Ukrainian friendship
Since the beatification of John Paul II in May 2011, the Polish community in Rome has been meeting every Thursday morning at 07:10 in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, one of the side chapels of St. Peter’s Basilica. The altar now has the tomb of St. John Paul II, which was previously located in the Vatican crypt. It has become a gathering and devotional point for Poles connected to the Vatican and for pilgrims passing through.
John Paul II is the only pope to have visited Ukraine. The Polish pope made a pastoral visit from June 23 to 27, 2001, to this country which was celebrating its 10th year of independence after the end of the USSR. He went to the capital, Kiev, and to Lviv, a predominantly Greek-Catholic city in the west of the country, where he celebrated the beatification of 25 people, mainly martyrs of communism.
Some 500,000 people gathered to meet the first Slavic pope in history, who came to encourage the reconstruction of the Greek Catholic Church, 55 years after its dissolution by Stalin.
Concern and emotion in Poland
Culturally and geographically close to Ukraine, Poland is particularly mobilized in support of the Ukrainian population. The local Catholic Church is organizing prayer rallies, fundraising events and operations in support of Ukrainian refugees, who already number more than one million in Poland. Many of them arrived as early as the 2014 war.
On the morning of February 24, 2022, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, reacted to the Russian offensive. The Archbishop of Poznań called for praying for peace in Europe with the words of St. John Paul II. “God of our fathers, great and merciful, Lord of life and peace, Father of all men. Abolish the pride of the violent. Grant us peace!” he wrote on the Twitter profile of the Archdiocese of Poznań.
Given its border with Belarus and Russia itself – at the Kaliningrad enclave – many Poles feel vulnerable about the risk of Russian aggression or subversion. The migration crisis in the summer of 2021 on the Polish-Belarusian border was seen by many Poles as a provocation orchestrated by Moscow, which exercises tutelage over the Belarusian regime, in order to test the reaction of the European Union.