In the sanctuary at Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church Saturday afternoon, many who came carried stories of suffering, worry, and loss from Ukraine and its 13-month battle against the Russian invaders.
There was the church’s pastor, whose nephew is a member of the Ukrainian forces fighting Russian troops. There was a worker at a local resettlement agency who was born in Ukraine and now helps Ukrainian families establish new lives in Massachusetts. A woman said her brother is in Kyiv, where electricity is unreliable and his children must take turns going to school.
But Saturday also marked the Feast of the Annunciation, a commemoration of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary to deliver news that she would give birth to Jesus Christ. The religious leaders gathered in the Jamaica Plain church seized on that hopeful moment in Christianity to encourage worshippers to hold onto faith that peace will return to Ukraine.
“Our prayer during this holy season of Lent is that the crucifixion of the Ukrainian people will soon be transformed into resurrection,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
He was joined on the altar by Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the highest-ranking Ukrainian Catholic prelate in the United States, and representatives of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston for a service to pray for Ukraine during Lent.
Gudziak, who is based in Philadelphia and serves as president of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine, said six of his students have been killed while defending Ukraine.
“It’s very difficult when you’re being killed not to hate,” he said during the service. “It’s actually impossible. Human nature has reflexes. We can’t resist them. It’s only with grace. It’s only with God’s power that we can do what Jesus did — love the enemy.”
Gudziak shared an update about efforts by the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America to raise money to help people affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The church established a fund last year to help pay for immediate needs, he said, but it is now establishing a second fund to rebuild churches.
Gudziak credited O’Malley for suggesting a fund devoted to rebuilding churches and said the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston made the inaugural donation of $500,000. An archdiocesan spokesperson said the contribution comes from $1.1 million donated by parishioners for Ukraine relief.
After the service, Olha Halyabar said discussion of rebuilding efforts gives her hope and helps soothe the “fear and the hatred” brought on by the Russian invasion and the outbreak of war.
“That gives some encouragement and gives that healing for the heart,” Halyabar said.
She said her brother and his three children live in Kyiv.
“They are enduring,” said Halyabar, who grew up in Ukraine.
Olena Bokhenik, who works at the Refugee & Immigrant Assistance Center, said Ukrainian refugees need help finding work and housing.
“People are traumatized and they need a lot of mental health support,” she said.
Bokhenik, who grew up in Ukraine, said she was grateful to see the church packed with supporters.
“It’s very important for us to feel that support,” she said. “Without US support, it will not be possible to defend Ukraine.”
Regina Balcaitiene and Rima Girnius displayed flags from Lithuania during the service to demonstrate Lithuanian support for Ukraine. The women are active in Lithuanian community organizations in Boston and said they worry Russia could one day target Lithuania.
“We, all Catholics, are together,” said Balcaitiene, who is president of the Lithuanian American Community of New England. “We are supporting each other.”
The Rev. Yaroslav Nalysnyk, pastor at Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church, said his family members in Ukraine include his 92-year-old mother, two sisters, and a nephew, who joined the military.
Nalysnyk said he exchanges messages with his nephew, Taras.
“He was in Denmark and when the war started, he went back to Ukraine and joined the army and went to the battlefield,” Nalysnyk said.
He described his nephew as young, courageous, and prepared to die to defend Ukraine.
“He knows why he has to fight. If he will not stop the Russian army on the east, they will come to our hometown. They will kill his mother, brothers, and sisters,” Nalysnyk said.
He said his mother has found ways to manage.
“At the beginning, she was stunned. She was terrified. To experience war as a lady of 92, it was a very painful experience,” Nalysnyk said.
His mother, Cornelia, was a child during World War II. Nalysnyk recalled her words to him at the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine early last year.
“She said they came to kill us. They will commit another genocide,” Nalysnyk said.
Saturday’s service, he said, was “very meaningful” because of the backing from the Boston community and its religious leaders.
“I hope that they will continue to support us until the victory that we are waiting for,” Nalysnyk said.