Ukraine: Let Me Sow Love

May 09 2022 | by

IN THE early days of the Franciscan movement, Saints Francis and Anthony had to confront the evil of war in their society. There were constant battles between city states in Italy, and even within those cities. Both Franciscan saints were famous for their attempts to reconcile the warring parties. St. Francis even travelled to Damietta, Egypt, to speak with the Sultan during one of the Crusades to share with him the message of Christ (instead of fighting with him). The Secular Franciscans (OFS) became so widespread that certain battles and wars even had to be cancelled because there were not enough soldiers to fight in them.

The Franciscan family as well as the world is once again challenged with the evils of war. The country of Ukraine has been invaded by the forces of Russia, an attack that would have seemed impossible in the 21st century.

Ukraine has a long and painful history of being attacked by its neighbors. It is an incredibly fertile country, long being the bread basket of eastern Europe, but it does not have any strong natural boundaries, so someone is always invading it. It has, in fact, not been independent all that long throughout its history. It was under the dominion of Russia, the Soviet Union, the Mongols, the Poles and the Lithuanians. It was invaded by the Swedes under King Charles XII and the French under Napoleon. During the 1930s over three million of its citizens were deliberately allowed to starve to death because Stalin wanted to crush its national spirit.


Conventual Franciscan presence


The Conventual Franciscan Friars have been present in Ukraine for a number of years (since the end of communism). There are presently five friaries there, as well as numerous friaries in the neighboring countries (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Rumania). The auxiliary bishop of Lviv is also a friar, Msgr. Eduard Kava. The friars there are being challenged to find a Franciscan, Christian way to respond to this aggression.

As of the writing of this article, over four million people (often women and children) have fled the battlefields of Ukraine for the safety of its neighboring countries. This does not even include all of the internal refugees (those still in Ukraine, but who have had to flee from their homes). The refugees often had to take flight with very few possessions, often only the clothes on their backs. They are traumatized by what is happening. They need whatever physical help that can be given to them, but they also need the comfort of being welcomed in a Christ-like manner to begin to heal the wounds of their souls.


Power of prayer


The friars in Ukraine have committed themselves to assist the refugees with food and clothing. Likewise, the friars in the neighboring countries have established soup kitchens, clothing distributions, and have opened their friaries and institutions to house those who have nowhere else to live. They are also spending whatever time is available listening to the stories of the refugees, for those who have been hurt so badly often simply need someone who will be there for them.

They have also not forgotten the spiritual element of their response to this great evil. They have committed themselves to Eucharistic adoration and praying the rosary and other devotions. One might be tempted to ask why they are doing those things and not doing something more practical. The answer is that adoration and prayer are occasions in which our love is joined to God’s love, and love always has an effect upon the world. In times of war, it is easy to de-humanize the other side, and this is something that Christ (as well as Saints Francis and Anthony) never condoned. Jesus taught that we have to pray for our enemies and those who seek to harm us.

This is one of the highest forms of love. It is easy to love someone from whom one will receive a recompense. It is difficult to love the person who wishes to harm one. Yet, as Franciscans, we are called to judge the harm that the other is trying to do as a symptom of something that is broken in that person’s heart. Rather than make that brokenness worse, we want to pray it into healing. Thus, praying is one of the most powerful things that one can do.


Ukraine and Russia


One of the complicating factors in the response of the friars to this war is that there are friars in both Russia and Ukraine (the two warring parties). Both of these countries have a majority of Orthodox believers, but in these years the rapport between the friars and their neighboring Orthodox believers has been mostly friendly.

This does not mean that there is no fear during these days. The friars speak of the time that they and their parishioners spend in the bomb shelters. In the early days of fighting, the friars and their parishes were in areas not directly involved in the fighting, but that is sure to change.

People all over the world have responded to this emergency with signs of solidarity toward those who are suffering in Ukraine. The sunflower is considered to be Ukraine’s official flower. Many people have displayed them to show that they would like to join themselves spiritually with the Ukrainians. Blue and Yellow are the colors in the Ukrainian flag, and people have dressed in these colors, or attached blue and yellow streamers or banners to their houses or cars to demonstrate their solidarity with this oppressed people


Our charitable initiative


Parishes and prayer groups around the world have also committed themselves to holy hours, special novena prayers, rosaries, etc. so that they, too, might storm the heavens with their appeals to soften the hearts of those who are causing these difficulties. As people of faith, we believe that miracles of conversion do happen. But even if one does not see the effects of one’s prayers, we nevertheless believe that prayers are never wasted. Maybe through prayers seeds were planted that will only come to fruition in God’s time.

People are also donating funds to help feed, clothe and house the refugees. The  friars of the Basilica will be helping in this regard, and if anyone would like to make a donation to this cause, you can find the needed contact information at the end of this article.


Butterfly effect


Another action that one can perform to address this crisis is a commitment not to involve oneself in hatred and violence in one’s own life. It is easy to see the evil of what is being done in a place like Ukraine, but it is also easy to ignore the smaller forms of violence in which we are involved in our own families, at work, on the road, etc.

If one were to choose one form of selfish behavior and try to change it, one could offer up that effort as a sacrifice of love for the people of Ukraine. This sort of commitment has different levels of effectiveness. At the superficial level, it will bring more peace to one’s own family life. Even if one never tells another that one is doing this, the others will sense that something is different. At a secondary level, when the others sense the change in one’s attitude, they, themselves, will be challenged to change their own hearts. This is called the butterfly effect in which one small action changes one small thing, which changes another, which changes another, until great things are done.


Conversion of love


Finally, the spiritual energy that we expend in trying to convert our own lives can be communicated even halfway across the world. Have you ever thought of someone out of the blue, and called that person, and that person was having a rotten day and needed someone to reach out to him/her. How did we know to call that person? It was the Holy Spirit who placed that person’s need in one’s heart. If we commit ourselves to a conversion of love (even in relatively small things) and offer up that sacrifice for the people of Ukraine who at this moment so need expressions of love and solidarity, we will be changing the world, one heart at a time.

Christ, the Prince of Peace, have mercy on us.



Forgive us for the war, o Lord.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,

Have mercy on us sinners!

Lord Jesus, born under the bombs of Kiev,

Have mercy on us!

Lord Jesus, who died in a mother’s arms in a bunker in Kharkiv,

Have mercy on us!

Lord Jesus, a 20 year old sent to the front lines.  

Have mercy on us!

Son of God, we implore you! Stop the hand of Cain!

And when you have stopped the hand of Cain,

Care also for him too. He is our brother.

Msgr. Mimmo Battaglia, Archbishop of Naples (abridged version)



Please sustain the friars of the Basilica of Saint Anthony in their outreach to Ukrainian refugees. Through your help we will be able, in St. Anthony’s name, to help women, men and children find a safe haven, meals, clothing and health care. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing Ukraine and need all our help. Help us to protect them!

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Updated on May 17 2022