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As conflict rages on, Ukrainian troops make a pilgrimage for peace

Banner prayer candle 1 at a military chaplaincy in the ukraine photo courtesy of aid to the church in need cna 1

Prayer candle at a Military Chaplaincy in the Ukraine. Photo Courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need.

Members of the Ukrainian army recently traveled to Lourdes, France for an international military pilgrimage aimed at promoting peace – something the whole country is said to be praying for. To come to the shrine with soldiers actively fighting in conflict zones “is very important to us because like this we feel very supported by the whole world,” Father Ivan Yavorskyy told CNA May 16. “We also want to show the world that we have a war in the Ukraine in this moment. We are here to pray for peace in Ukraine.” A military chaplain for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Fr. Yavorskyy accompanied 17 Ukrainian soldiers on the annual International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, which was established in 1946 in order to pray for global peace, healing and reconciliation after World War II. The pilgrimage, which each year gathers military personnel from 35 nations in Lourdes in May, took place May 12-18. Thousands of international soldiers were present representing the military branches of their respective countries. Originally from Kiev, Fr. Yavorskyy was joined by 17 active members of the Ukrainian army, a Greek-Catholic bishop and one other military chaplain. Most of those who came have been involved in the military operations currently taking place in eastern Ukraine, he said, adding that “many of them were blessed” by their time at renowned Marian shrine. Conflict erupted in Ukraine last year in February when the country’s former president was ousted following months of violent protest, and a new government appointed. In March, Ukraine’s eastern peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia and pro-Russian separatist rebels have since taken control of eastern portions of Ukraine, around Donetsk and Luhansk. It is estimated that nearly 6,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Rebels have been supported by both Russian arms and troops, according to both Ukraine and Western nations. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine was among the topics covered by Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in their Feb. 21 meeting at the Vatican. Merkel helped to negotiate the latest cease-fire agreement between Ukrainian government forces and Pro-Russian separatists, hoping to ease the conflict that many have said has resulted in a humanitarian crisis. The ceasefire officially began at midnight Feb. 15, and called for all sides to pull back heavy weapons. It was also expected that a de-militarized zone be created between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces, who will both pull back to new positions. All prisoners were to be released, and foreign weapons and troops withdrawn. Constitutional reform was expected to enable decentralization in the eastern portions of Ukraine by 2016. However, despite the agreement of a ceasefire and the slight fall in violence since it was reached, shelling in the eastern region of the country has continued, and the number of casualties has continued to rise. Although many citizens from the towns and villages nearest the fighting have fled, Fr. Yavorskyy said the Church continues to support all those who are affected by the conflict. “The Church is still in the zone of the conflict, and they support people there. They did not leave the territory but they are there to support people and to give help,” he said. In his role as a military chaplain the most important thing he can do “is to be near to the soldiers, to support them all the time, to be behind them in the conflict territory and to give every support that we can give.” Fr. Yavorskyy said that all 20 people who came on the pilgrimage are joined by their entire country in praying for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. “It was a goal to come here and to be near to the Virgin to pray for Ukraine and to have peace faster in Ukraine.”

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