SCRANTON — For Ukrainian Catholics, the Holy Season of Lent began this past Monday under a massive dark cloud of destruction, desolation and death associated with all-out war — just a mere four days after their homeland was maliciously attacked by Russia.
Rev. Myron Myronyuk has served as pastor of Saint Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in downtown Scranton for the past ten years, which happens to be as long it has been since he last visited those he left behind.
For the past week, more than ever, Father Myron’s heavy heart lies thousands of mile away as he – along with his congregation – agonize over the bitter suffering of their fellow countrymen and women. Included among those currently embattled by invading Russian forces are the priest’s 80-year-old mother, his sister, and a twin brother, who is a college professor in Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv after having served in the nation’s military for ten years.
Occasional calls to keep in touch with loved ones now occur daily.
“With the situation, I talk to my family every day and they let me know how they are managing and what is most needed,” the audibly shaken and exhausted Ukrainian churchman said, having endured days without sleep as he orchestrates incessant shipments of vital supplies for his besieged nation.
“They have nothing. They are in need of everything,” Father Myronyuk he told The Catholic Light in a late-night conversation earlier this week. He had just arrived back in his rectory after helping load 500 pounds of medical supplies to be shipped to a New Jersey agency, with the hopes of eventually reaching Ukraine through the generous support of the Polish government.
The pastor stated the civilian population has been hit especially hard, with the number of casualties reaching into the thousands and climbing each day. Most of country’s airports have also been destroyed, he indicated.
Father Myronyuk speaks for his parish and Ukrainian faithful everywhere in pleading for spiritual and material assistance.
“Monetary donations, medical and baby supplies and all types of non-perishable items are urgently need,” he noted while imploring his brothers and sisters in faith to offer fervent prayers for the Ukrainian people.
The day before the Diocese of Scranton joined the global Catholic Church in offering sacrifices of prayer and fasting on Ash Wednesday for an end to the Soviet aggression — at the behest of Pope Francis — Father Myronyuk urged, “I encourage everyone to keep praying and praying as you enter Lent.”
“We are doing are best and we let God do the rest,” the distraught priest said.
As a lifelong member of Saint Vladimir Church, Paul Ewasko remarked that since the hostile attacks began he has incredulously asked himself and his Ukrainian-born wife, Helen, “Is this really happening?”
“It all seems so unreal, yet I must fully accept it because it is real,” he said. “It is the kind of tragedy that occurred many years ago, not today.”
For Dr. Helen Chandoha Knott, a first generation Ukrainian-American, the images and news coming out her native land are reminiscent of her father and family fleeing Ukraine during World War II in the early 1940s.
“They walked for miles and took a train when they could until they came to a DP (displaced persons) camp in Germany,” she explained. “Eventually my father and his family came to America, but always stressed to us to never forget our Ukrainian culture and religious beliefs because it helps us to connect to our Ukrainian ancestors who always had to fight for basic freedoms that we in America take for granted every day.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Jean Stasyszyn Pedley, a longtime faithful member of Saint Vladimir’s, who recalled how her mother and father had to flee Ukraine because of Communist rule many years ago.
“They would be heartbroken over these events,” she said. “But over the past few days of horror, I’ve been reminded of what is good in the world — that there are people in this community ready to help strangers.”
Pedley added, “The people of Ukraine with their deep faith in God and the Blessed Mother are inspiring all of us to do better, to be better. The outpouring of prayer and support, both financial and emotional, have been overwhelming. But as always God’s hand is guiding us.”
“The cruel and evil invasion just doesn’t fit in today’s world, or does it?” Ewasko passionately concluded. “As a Ukrainian Catholic, I look to Jesus and His Mother Mary who are real and who will see us through. Ukraine forever!”