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On Ash Wednesday, local Christians pray for Ukraine

As local Christians marked the beginning of Lent, they offered prayers for people half a world away in the Ukraine, where Russian troops have taken control of much of the Crimean peninsula.

Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted and the Parish of St. Mary, both Catholic parishes in Waltham, prayed for the Ukrainian people at Ash Wednesday Masses.

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Students at Our Lady’s Academy, a parochial elementary school, came up with the idea of praying for the Ukraine, said the Rev. James DiPerri, pastor of Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted.

“Our parish does not have a personal connection to the Ukraine, which makes it even more powerful that we’re thinking of others who perhaps are not known to us,” said DiPerri.

“Anytime there’s war and suffering it’s a horror and a tragedy,” he said. “And it’s an affront of God’s commandment to love.” The parish has made it a tradition to offer prayers for those affected by contemporary tragedies.

The Ukrainian conflict began simmering last year when Viktor F. Yanukovych, the country’s former president, scrapped a European trade deal and turned toward Russia for aid, inflaming anger in Ukraine’s pro-European west and prompting protests. Last month, those demonstrations turned violent.

A peace deal brokered by European foreign ministers evaporated into chaos as Yanukovych fled Ukraine, eventually turning up in Russia. Then last week Russian forces began flooding into Crimea.

“It was important to focus today on the folks in the Ukraine,” said Diane LeBlanc, vice chairman of the church’s pastoral council and a Waltham city councilor.

Rosa and Arturo Baguer are natives of Cuba and said they can empathize with the Ukrainian people. “We know the steps of oppression,” said Rosa Baguer, 75.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.
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