By Zelda Caldwell
The U.S. Catholic bishops showed their support for the Ukraine war effort at their fall meeting in Baltimore Wednesday, pledging solidarity and continued humanitarian aid following an impassioned speech on the war against Russia by Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Borys Gudziak.
Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego, who was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis this May, urged the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to stand by Ukraine.
Referring to rumblings that the U.S. Congress might decrease the nation’s commitment to the war effort in Ukraine, McElroy called on the bishops to act with haste to ensure continued U.S. support.
“I urge the conference to make it a very high priority to move quickly to preempt any moves in our national policy in that direction,” McElroy said.
Noting his past support for pursuing peaceful means to end conflict, McElroy said that the war between Ukraine and Russia is different.
“This is an instance that demands resistance,” he told the assembled bishops.
‘It’s liberty or death’
McElroy’s comments came after a moving speech by Gudziak, the American-born archbishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, in which he thanked the bishops for standing by Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
In his remarks, Gudziak characterized Russia’s invasion as a sign of the sort of “imperialism” that is no longer tolerated in the world.
“Russia is the last of the European empires, and scandalously, it is the last to use the Gospel, the Church, to justify colonialism,” he said.
He thanked the bishops for “Catholic solidarity and for American solidarity” with the Ukrainian people, whom he said remain defiant.
“Ukrainians are saying, ‘It’s over. We’re not going to be colonized. We’re not going to be subject. It’s over. It’s liberty or death,’” he said.
When asked about chances for a negotiated peace between Ukraine and Russia, Gudziak said Russia would need to leave Ukraine first.
“All Ukrainians are very much for peace; the country gave up its nuclear weapons, reduced its army by 80%, and it just wants peace throughout the country. So when Russia is ready to leave, the preconditions for negotiations will be present,” he told CNA.
“It’s like somebody coming into your house, occupying your bedroom, and saying, ‘Let’s now negotiate about your kitchen,’” Gudziak said.
U.S. and Catholic aid to Ukraine
Gudziak’s speech recognized the U.S. government’s aid to the war effort. The Biden administration has committed $18.2 billion in military assistance in Ukraine since the invasion and has contributed $302 million in humanitarian aid this year.
In thanking the bishops for their aid, Gudziak noted that Catholic dioceses had collected $40 million in donations for humanitarian aid, that Catholic Relief Services had contributed $100 million (with some in the form of government contracts), and that the Knights of Columbus had donated $20 million more.
In his speech, Gudziak said that 14 million Ukrainians have been displaced and urged the bishops to help welcome more Ukrainian immigrants into the United States.
“Along with Bishop Mario Dorsonville, we are asking that all dioceses and all bishops consider hosting one family. You can only get into the humanitarian pool if you’re sponsored. So far there have been 150,000 people that have come into the humanitarian pool,” Gudziak said.
He compared the 150,000 Ukrainians welcomed into the U.S. with the greater numbers that have been welcomed by European countries.
“But look at the European reception. Poland and Germany right now have over a million people. France has 200,000, and Italy has probably 300,000. All these countries have been tremendously generous,” he said.
Gudziak told the assembled bishops that the Catholic Church in Ukraine and the U.S. have had a salutary effect on Ukraine, particularly on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He said the 44-year-old former comedian has become a “follower” of Ukraine’s Catholics and has been “canonized“ by them.
“American Catholics supported the Catholic Church through thick and thin in Ukraine,” he said. “You have helped through scholarships, through internships, through the training of conditions in seminaries, religious and laypeople for people to understand what Catholic social doctrine is. It’s subsidiarity in the army, it’s solidarity among the refugees. It’s the willingness to give your life for God-given dignity,” he said.
Of Zelenskyy, Gudziak said: “It’s the conversation of common goodness, and it has become the language of a secular president. He doesn’t know that you’ve influenced him. And he’s influencing the world back. He’s bringing a language of values back to the global geopolitical discourse in the world.”
The bishops gave Gudziak a standing ovation. After the speech, several bishops rose to affirm the U.S. bishops’ support for Ukraine and pledge of continued humanitarian aid.