The war in Ukraine has forced over two million people to date to flee the country — great numbers are women and children. Families have been separated as men have stayed behind to fight. Many mothers with children are now refugees in neighboring countries, arriving with little else but the clothes on their backs.
And while the situation in Ukraine rightly requires urgent attention, we cannot forget other places in the world where war has uprooted the lives of millions of people, with high numbers of women and children.
In Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, millions are suffering the devastating effects of a civil war and on the brink of starvation, with thousands displaced and living in camps. According to the UNCHR, “1 in 4 of the displaced Yemeni families is headed by a woman or girl –20 percent of whom are under the age of 18.”
Similarly, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, civil war is reported to have taken on all indications of a genocide, with no food, medicine, or aid allowed into the region and communications cut off by the Ethiopian government. Millions of women and children — especially the youngest and oldest among them — bear great burdens as they cope with trauma and struggle to survive.
Learning about these atrocities leaves us feeling helpless, but we can turn to some powerful sisters in heaven to intercede for the peace and healing of all women and children affected by war and violence.
St. Josephine Bakhita
This patron saint of Sudan was an enslaved person and experienced unspeakable abuse and racism as a young woman at the hands of her masters. Eventually, she managed to move to Italy where one of the families she worked for helped her to realize her desire to become a Canossian Sister.Josephine was beatified in 1992 and canonized by Pope John Paul in 2000.
St. Olga of Kyiv
St. Olga was a pagan queen in present day Kyiv (called Kyivan Rus’ ) from 945 to 960. She was exposed to Christianity while on a trip to Constantinople and brought back priests and deacons to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and help her convert her people. The ruthlessness she displayed as a pagan was transformed into courage and strength when she became a Christian.
St. Joan of Arc
Look to the Maid of Orleans when you need a prayer warrior for those who need strength, courage and perseverance. She not only led an army against the English, but refused to renounce her faith, even while knowing she would be burned at the stake for it at the young age of 19.
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
These two Christian martyrs died for their faith in the early 3rd century. While Felicity had just given birth, Perpetua left behind a child whom she’d been nursing. They both willingly went to their deaths — being thrown into an arena of wild animals — knowing that God would be by their side.
This mother of the once-wayward St. Augustine is the perfect intercessor for mothers and children everywhere. She knows how to dig her heels in and never give up. She is a perfect saint to turn to for mothers who live in fear of what may happen to their children.
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys
This French-born Canadian saint is the ideal person to pray to for Ukraine children whose education has been interrupted. Not only did she take the courageous step of moving to a foreign country, Canada, but this religious sister also cared for Indigenous people and colonists, founded a women’s religious order, and began schools. All this was at great risk to her life.
St. Thérèse de Lisieux
While the Little Flower may have led a seemingly peaceful life, she was filled with great loss when her mother died when she was 4, and also when her sisters left the home one by one to enter religious life. Her deep love for Jesus helped her through the various spiritual torments she experienced in her short life.
St. Catherine of Alexandria
As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, this 4th-century martyr is a very powerful intercessor and is said to have spoken to Joan of Arc. Her faith in God gave her the bravery to stand up to powerful men and their persecutions of the Christians in her time. Having consecrated her virginity to Jesus, the young noble girl underwent torture and was eventually beheaded for her faith.
Also known as St. Rebecca, this Lebanon-born 19th-century saint had to cope with family pressure to marry at the age of 14. She bravely rejected all proposals and on hearing God’s call, fled to a convent to dedicate her life to Him as a Maronite nun. She wanted to suffer as Jesus did and became crippled and blind for the rest of her life. Rafqa was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2001.