(OSV News) – Amid wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, this year’s World Mission Sunday is “even more important” than ever, said an executive from the U.S. offices of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

The universal Catholic Church marked the observance Oct. 22, and the collection taken up that day forms the primary financial support for the societies, which have a presence in some 1,100 dioceses in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific Islands and parts of Europe.

Lay missionary Josseline Montes Jiménez, right, teaches religious acclamations to members of Los Monckis, a street gang, during a May 18, 2023, visit to their hangout in Monterrey, Mexico. (OSV News photo/Nuri Vallbona, Global Sisters Report)

Pope Francis’ theme for the 2023 World Mission Sunday was “Hearts on fire, feet on the move,” which recalls the encounter between two disciples and the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35).

In an Oct. 18 message he recorded for the Pontifical Mission Societies and posted by the societies on X (formerly Twitter), Pope Francis said that World Mission Sunday was about “worship and mission.”

Speaking in Spanish, Pope Francis urged the faithful to “recognize the Father and worship him in spirit and truth, and go out to announce that message. Not as one who proselytizes, but as one who shares a great grace.”

He described it as a mission “shared with brothers,” that says “this is what I feel, this is the grace I received, I pass it on to you, I give it to you.

“You can do this if you are capable of worshipping,” said Pope Francis.

With “the ongoing situation in the world,” World Mission Sunday “should actually open us to be even more generous,” Ines San Martin, vice president of marketing and communications for the societies’ U.S. office, told OSV News from Rome ahead of the observance. “Now more than ever, the church in the Holy Land needs us, the church in Ukraine needs us.”

“The oldest church has to help the youngest church currently suffering so much due to the devastation of war. We at TPMS strive to model peace by supporting all those suffering from conflicts around the world,” Msgr. Kieran Harrington, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said.

The societies’ worldwide network, which operates at the service of the pope, consists of four organizations designated as pontifical by Pope Pius XI in 1922.

The Society for the Propagation of the Faith supports the evangelization efforts of the local church; the Missionary Childhood Association educates children about their part in the church’s missionary outreach; the Society of St. Peter the Apostle trains the next generation of missionary clergy and consecrated religious; and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious focuses on forming clergy, religious and pastoral leaders more deeply in their role as evangelizers.

The collection taken up on World Mission Sunday forms the primary financial support for the Pontifical Mission Societies, with U.S. Catholics donating about $30 million in 2022.

The generosity of the nation’s Catholic faithful “cannot be underscored (enough),” said San Martin.

“World Mission Sunday is a concrete response to what is happening in the world,” she said.

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the U.S., noted in a reflection for the autumn 2023 issue of Mission magazine, published by the societies, that the collection makes it possible “to provide annual subsidies to missionary dioceses, and to directly support mission seminaries and religious formation houses, the education of children in mission schools, the building of chapels and churches, as well as sustaining homes for orphaned children, the elderly and the sick.”

The support is far more than financial, said San Martin.

“When we say that (the societies) feed the poor, we do mean hunger, but we also mean the hunger of the soul,” said San Martin. “And World Mission Sunday is a great response to give peace — not just material peace, but also spiritual peace to those in need.”

Having a missionary spirit “means we truly are open to our brothers and sisters, and (we are) sharing with others the joy that comes from having met Christ,” she said.

That joy can help to build peace among communities and nations, San Martin said.

“Do you really hate your brother when you see Christ in him?” she said.

Yet “the problem is that we have in many ways given up our missionary animations,” San Martin admitted. “It should be a desperate need (for us) to go out and spread the Gospel, to really answer the great command (of Christ) to make disciples of all nations.”

World Mission Sunday is an opportunity for Catholics to recommit themselves to fulfilling that task, she said, adding “it truly does start with knowing that Jesus died for us to save us.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Acknowledging Ukraine’s celebration of Independence Day Aug. 24, Pope Francis pleaded with thousands of visitors at his weekly general audience to keep praying for peace in the country.

Noting that Aug. 24 also is the feast of St. Bartholomew, the apostle, the pope entrusted to him “dear Ukraine, so harshly tried by the war.”

A Ukrainian flag waves in the crowd gathered as Pope Francis recites the rosary with young people who are ill at the Chapel of Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima in Fátima, Portugal, Aug. 5, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

But then departing from his prepared text and looking directly at the crowd in the Vatican audience hall, he said: “Brothers and sisters, let’s pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are suffering so much. The war is cruel. So many children disappeared, so many people dead.”

According to the Ukrainian government’s “Children of War” website, 503 children had been killed as of Aug. 23 and more than 19,500 children have been forcibly taken to Russia.

“Please,” the pope said, “pray. Do not forget tormented Ukraine.”

Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The country had declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

In his weekly video message, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said that while Ukrainians “give thanks to the Lord God for the precious gift of freedom,” in the context of war “we are gaining a deeper understanding of the meaning of freedom, of what it entails to be free individuals, and recognizing that in order to guarantee the right of existence for the Ukrainian people, it is essential to have our own state.”

“The main pillars for building this state include respect for human dignity and the preservation of freedom,” the archbishop said.

“Freedom is a spiritual category. Being free is not limited only to escaping oppression or foreign domination,” he said. “True freedom involves being free for something. We recognize that the highest form of freedom is manifested in love, in the act of sacrificing oneself for God and neighbor.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis’ special envoy went to Washington to explore what the Vatican’s role could be in bringing about an end of hostilities in Ukraine, said the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

Discussing Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s July 17-19 trip to the U.S. capital, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of Military Services said the cardinal talked about humanitarian responses and avenues toward ending hostilities in Ukraine in his July 18 meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, on a peace mission to Moscow on Pope Francis’ behalf, speaks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the patriarch’s residence at the Danilov monastery in Moscow June 29, 2023. (CNS photo/Courtesy of the Russian Orthodox Church, Department for External Church Relations)

In an interview with Vatican News published July 20, Archbishop Broglio stressed that the purpose of Cardinal Zuppi’s meeting was “certainly not mediation, but an opportunity to see what the Holy See could do to help in an eventual end of hostilities in Ukraine,” yet he noted that “at the present time that seems somewhat unrealistic.”

“The church is concentrating on what we do best, which of course is humanitarian assistance, so that was the primary focus of Cardinal Zuppi’s intervention,” he said.

The cardinal and the president met for more than an hour at the White House, which Archbishop Broglio said “gives an indication of how much importance the president of the United States attributed to the gesture on the part of Pope Francis to send the cardinal to the United States.”

While in the United States, the cardinal also met with Archbishop Broglio, members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the Senate Prayer Breakfast.

Cardinal Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, hand-delivered a letter from Pope Francis to President Biden during their meeting, the Vatican said in a July 19 statement.

A July 18 White House readout said the two “discussed the Holy See’s efforts providing humanitarian aid to address the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, as well as the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcibly deported Ukrainian children.”

President Biden also “shared his wishes for Pope Francis’ continued ministry and global leadership and welcomed the recent nomination of a U.S. archbishop as cardinal,” the statement said, referring to Chicago-born Cardinal-designate Robert Prevost, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops.

Archbishop Broglio told Vatican News that U.S. Catholics have shown a “tremendous” response to the war by sending humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and organizing prayer initiatives throughout the country.

He also said he was “concerned” about U.S. cluster bombs being sent to Ukraine which he said are “indiscriminate in the victims” they create, noting that “any escalation (of the war) is going to be dangerous.”

“There’s always a danger in war that the innocent will be injured or will be harmed or can even lose their lives (on) the peripheries of a military action, and that certainly should always be avoided,” he said.

Cluster bombs refer to munitions that release smaller explosives across a wide area while in the air, making them less precise in their targeting. The Pentagon confirmed that U.S.-provided cluster bombs arrived in Ukraine July 13 and they have since been used in combat.

Archbishop Broglio expressed his gratitude for Pope Francis doing everything he can to “echo the message of peace, which is really the message of our Savior.”

“I’m very grateful for this gesture,” he said.

BUDAPEST, Hungary (CNS) – Praising the piety and charity of Hungarian Christians and their commitment to supporting traditional family life, Pope Francis said Christ also calls them to open their hearts — and perhaps their borders — to others in need.

When it comes to the church or to society, isolationism is not Christian, the pope said in a variety of ways during his visit to Budapest, Hungary, April 28-30.

Pope Francis accepts the offertory gifts from Hungarians dressed in traditional clothes during Mass in Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos Square April 30, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Because of the 86-year-old pope’s mobility issues, the trip was confined to the capital and the official schedule was lighter than usual. But, as is normal for the pope, he used part of his long midday breaks and early evenings for private meetings, including with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest and Hungary.

Flying back to Rome April 30, the pope confirmed that he and Metropolitan Hilarion had spoken about Russia’s war on Ukraine, and he said the Vatican has some special “mission” underway, but he declined to provide details.

The pope also spoke about the war with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who, despite being a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has condemned the war. But within the European Union, he has consistently voted against sanctioning Russia and against sending weapons to Ukraine.

Orbán has claimed his position makes him the only European leader siding with Pope Francis, although the pope has insisted Ukraine has a right to defend itself.

In his first speech in Hungary – to government and civic leaders and diplomats serving in Budapest – the pope encouraged the leaders to foster greater European unity rather than going their own way.

The “passionate quest of a politics of community and the strengthening of multilateral relations seems a wistful memory from a distant past,” he said April 28 in his speech at the former Carmelite monastery that now houses Orbán’s office.

“More and more,” the pope said, “enthusiasm for building a peaceful and stable community of nations seems to be cooling, as zones of influence are marked out, differences accentuated, nationalism is on the rise and ever harsher judgments and language are used in confronting others.”

Ukraine is one of Hungary’s eastern neighbors and Hungarians have assisted some 2.5 million Ukrainians who have crossed the border since Russia’s war on Ukraine began in February 2022. About 35,000 of the Ukrainian refugees have remained in Hungary.

Pope Francis repeatedly praised Hungarians for opening their country and their hearts to the Ukrainians, but in several speeches and at his Mass April 30 in Budapest’s Kossuth Lajos Square, he urged them to be open to everyone in need.

“How sad and painful it is to see closed doors,” he said in his homily. He cited “the closed doors of our selfishness with regard to others; the closed doors of our individualism amid a society of growing isolation; the closed doors of our indifference toward the underprivileged and those who suffer; the doors we close toward those who are foreign or unlike us, toward migrants or the poor.”

Orbán and President Katalin Novák, who have promoted the migration restrictions, were among the estimated 50,000 people attending the Mass in the square in front of the Hungarian Parliament building.

The pope also preached openness April 28 during a meeting with Hungary’s bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and catechists.

He called Hungarian Catholics to embrace “prophetic welcome” or “prophetic receptivity,” which, he said, “is about learning how to recognize the signs of God in the world around us, including places and situations that, while not explicitly Christian, challenge us and call for a response.”

Christians grow in “prophetic receptivity,” he said, by “bringing the Lord’s consolation to situations of pain and poverty in our world, being close to persecuted Christians, to migrants seeking hospitality, to people of other ethnic groups and to anyone in need.”

Pope Francis met with more than 10,000 Hungarian young people in a sports arena April 29 and listened to four of them share how they have overcome obstacles and grown in their faith.

One of them, Tódor Levcsenkó, a 17-year-old student in Miskolc, Hungary, and the son of an Eastern Catholic priest from the Eparchy of Mukachevo in Western Ukraine, told his peers that their sense of mission and purpose can be “numbed by the fact that we live in safety and peace,” but only a few miles away, across the border, “war and suffering are the order of the day.”

“May we have the courage to defend our faith and take up our call to be peacemakers,” he said.

Pope Francis echoed his call, telling the young people, “This is the real challenge: to take control of our lives in order to help our world live in peace. Each one of us should ask the uncomfortable question: What am I doing for others, for the church, for society? Do I think only about myself?”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis has invited Catholics worldwide to renew the act of consecrating the church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine, to Mary every March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.

At the end of his general audience in St. Peter’s Square March 22, the pope recalled last year’s service “when, in union with all the bishops of the world, the church and humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine, were consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Pope Francis burns incense in front of a Marian statue after consecrating the world and, in particular, Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary during a Lenten penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 25, 2022. A year later, he asked Catholics worldwide to renew the consecration and pray for peace. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“Let us not tire of entrusting the cause of peace to the Queen of Peace,” he said, asking that people not forget “troubled Ukraine, which is suffering so much.”

The pope invited “every believer and community, especially prayer groups, to renew every March 25 the Act of Consecration to Our Lady, so that she, who is mother, may preserve us all in unity and peace.”

As Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine entered its second month Pope Francis pronounced the Act of Consecration after leading a Lenten penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica March 25, 2022. He had asked bishops around the world to join him the same day in consecrating Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In his homily during the Lenten penance service, Pope Francis had said the Act of Consecration was “no magic formula but a spiritual act” of trust by “children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their mother, reposing all their fears and pain in her heart and abandoning themselves to her.”

“It means placing in that pure and undefiled heart, where God is mirrored, the inestimable goods of fraternity and peace, all that we have and are, so that she, the mother whom the Lord has given us, may protect us and watch over us,” the pope had said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – A year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis asked, “Can the Lord forgive so many crimes and so much violence? He is the God of peace.”

At the end of his weekly general audience Feb. 22 and with a group of Ukrainian parliamentarians seated in the front row, the pope noted that Feb. 24 would mark “one year since the invasion of Ukraine, a year since this absurd and cruel war – a sad anniversary.”

“The record of deaths, injuries, refugees and displaced people, destruction and economic and social damage speaks for itself,” he said.

Pope Francis signs a Ukrainian flag for a Ukrainian child at the end of his weekly general audience Feb. 22, 2023, in the Vatican audience hall. During the audience, the pope noted that the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is Feb. 24 and prayed for an end to the war. (CNS photo/Vatican Media

At every general audience and public recitation of the Angelus prayer for the past year, Pope Francis has asked people to join him in praying for peace and in offering concrete assistance to the millions of Ukrainians who have sought safety abroad and for the millions of others displaced within Ukraine or struggling to survive because of the fighting.

But, with the anniversary of Russia’s invasion just two days away, the pope’s appeal Feb. 22 was even more intense.

Promising that Catholics continue to be close to the “martyred Ukrainian people who continue to suffer,” the pope asked, “Has everything possible been done to stop the war?”

“I appeal to all those who have authority over nations to commit themselves concretely to ending the conflict, to reaching a cease-fire and to starting peace negotiations,” the pope said. “That which is built on ruins will never be a true victory.”

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) – Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a powerful symbol of eternal values, said the head of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacts after addressing a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington Dec. 21, 2022. (CNS photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

“He represents those who are willing to give their lives for the truth, for God-given human dignity and for freedom,” said Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia in a statement shared with Catholic News Service Dec. 22.

Archbishop Gudziak joined a delegation of Ukrainian and Ukrainian American leaders at the U.S. Capitol for Zelenskyy’s Dec. 21 in-person evening address to Congress.

The group included Father Mark Morozowich, a Ukrainian Catholic priest who is dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

Zelenskyy’s speech capped a one-day visit to Washington. The journey was his first known venture outside of Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion Feb. 24.

In his 20-minute speech, which he delivered in English, Zelenskyy demonstrated “he stands with his people, and … in a particular way he wanted to thank Americans,” said Archbishop Gudziak. “He expressed the gratitude of Ukrainians in many forms and many ways.”

Since Feb. 24, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with approximately $21.3 billion in military aid, with another $1.85 billion — including Patriot missiles — announced Dec. 21 by the Biden administration.

With the Senate’s Dec. 22 passage of the latest government spending bill, U.S. aid to Ukraine since February is poised to top $100 billion.

Amid multiple standing ovations from lawmakers, Zelenskyy assured Congress that “Ukraine is alive and kicking” and that Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe shared in a “joint victory” of “(defeating) Russia in the battle for minds of the world.”

That battle “is not only for life, freedom, and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer,” said Zelenskyy. “This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live, and then their children and grandchildren. It will define whether it will be a democracy of Ukrainians and for Americans, for all.”

That stark assessment stands in contrast to a 21st-century worldview in which “we’ve deconstructed almost everything, when everything is up for grabs, when truth is transactional,” said Archbishop Gudziak. “The people of Ukraine are saying, ‘No, there is good and evil. There is truth, and there are lies, and we are willing to give our lives for that.'”

Zelenskyy presented Congress with a Ukrainian flag signed by troops in Bakhmut, where he made an unannounced visit Dec. 20. Located in Ukraine’s eastern region, the small city has seen some of the bloodiest battles of the war, which continues attacks Russia launched in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the backing of separatist regions in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

Since then, hundreds of thousands have been killed, including 14,000 between 2014 and 2022 alone, and an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers from Feb. 24 to the first week of December.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded 6,755 civilians killed since Feb. 24. U.N. figures show the war has displaced approximately 13.7 million in total, 7.8 million across Europe and 5.9 million internally. Ukraine’s National Information Bureau reports some 11,500 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia.

Prosecutors in Ukraine are investigating at least 50,000 war crimes committed by Russian forces since February, including summary executions, torture, rape and castration. Relentless, direct attacks on civilian infrastructure by Russia have left millions of Ukrainians without access to electricity, heat and water.

Ukraine has filed an application with the International Court of Justice to charge Russia with committing genocide. The International Criminal Court is currently collecting evidence of potential crimes as well.

“Since the 17th century, Russia has been doing this to us,” said Ukrainian history expert Nicholas Rudnytzky, professor and dean of academic services at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. “Every time Ukrainian nationalism grew enough, they attempted to knock it down.”

He stressed that “democracy has to be defended; otherwise, tyranny wins.”

Zelenskyy’s visit provided the U.S. with an essential reminder of that reality, said Archbishop Gudziak.

“I think we Americans need Ukraine,” he said. “We need the inspiration, we need the willingness to sacrifice, and we need to be a part of this defense of freedom and dignity in the face of absolute evil. I have no doubt that millions of Americans were inspired and understood better what they so generously support. And this support should continue.”