Archbishop Julian visits war ravaged Ukraine

By Catherine Sheehan

Archbishop Julian Porteous returned to Hobart on 14 August after making a pastoral visit to war-torn Ukraine from 8 to 11 August, as part of a delegation from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

The visit took place at the tail end of Archbishop Julian’s overseas trip for World Youth Day in Lisbon.

“We were able to see first-hand the terrible destruction wrought on some of the towns on the outskirts of Kyiv,” Archbishop Julian said.

“We met with a priest who described his experience during the bombardment of his parish. The people have suffered greatly and we need to pray for peace to be restored in the Ukraine.”

The delegation to Ukraine included Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, Bishop Karol Kulczycki SDS of Port Pirie, Fr Simon Ckuj, Vicar General of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia, and Annie Carrett, Chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The pastoral visit was made at the invitation of Bishop Mykola Bychok CSsR, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia, and intended as a sign of solidarity with the people of Ukraine who have suffered enormously since their country was invaded by Russia in February 2022.

They made visits to Lviv, Kyiv, and to Bucha and Irpin, towns that have been devastated during the Russian invasion, with terrible destruction inflicted upon buildings, and atrocities committed against the people. The delegation met with Church leaders, families, soldiers and civic leaders.

It was also an opportunity to visit Ukrainian Catholic communities and assess the need for future humanitarian aid efforts.

“Of the many experiences that we had, one that particularly touched me was the closeness of the priests and bishops to their people,” Archbishop Julian said.

“Not only were they active in providing physical assistance but they were pastorally and spiritually present to the people. Again and again I noted their personal concern and witnessed the warmth of the people’s gratitude to their pastors.”

Archbishop Comensoli said the group were “very mindful of not being a burden to anyone” during the visit.

“Watching this tragedy from afar, and offering financial support is one thing,” Archbishop Comensoli commented.

“But it is important that we hear and share the voices of those directly affected. This visit was about caring for our neighbour; and personally offering a strength in friendship and prayer to the Ukrainian people.”

In Lviv they visited a general hospital which has now developed a rehabilitation centre. Called ‘Unbroken’, it serves those who have lost limbs through the war. There they met with doctors and wounded soldiers.

“Centres such as the Unbroken are critical in rebuilding lives,” Bishop Kulczycki said. “They take wounded of every age through a whole cycle of care from surgery, prosthesis, rehabilitation and, most importantly, psychological and social care.

“So much has been lost and damaged. These young lives and young families need to re-learn how to live an everyday life full of meaning and purpose.”

Chairman of the Pastoral and Migration Department of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Bishop Stephan Sus, invited the Australian bishops to join him for the funeral of a soldier at the Garrison Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Lviv.

In Bucha, the delegation visited a cemetery for fallen soldiers, also the site of a mass grave for civilians.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has encouraged parishes around Australia to provide financial support for the Ukrainian people and to pray for peace in the region. In an Advent appeal last year Australian parishes raised $430,000 AUD for Ukraine.

Photos by Annie Carrett, Archdiocese of Melbourne

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