Evacuees from Mariupol, Ukraine, get settled at a refugee camp in Bezymennoye, in the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk, March 8. CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

Charles Lewis: Facing up to the Cross in Ukraine

By 
  • March 16, 2022

A close friend of mine had a friend who was dying of cancer. When this man got his diagnosis his wife left him. She had never envisioned a life in which she would have to care for a dying husband. I have no idea whether she was incredibly shallow or had some severe phobia about disease and death.

This close friend of mine stepped in. He visited this guy every weekend and did the work of an occupational therapist (he was a journalist) to make it easier for his dying friend to live in comfort.

I thought of this story while watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfold on TV as I have every day and of the importance of bearing witness no matter how awful the images.

During one broadcast, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer warned they were about to show what he called a disturbing image. It was.

It was film of a Russian bomb going off and, in its wake, laid the dead bodies of a mother, father and their children. It needed to be seen so as not to have any illusions of what barbarians can do to innocent people.

It was a terrible image as is nearly every image coming out of Ukraine or Poland where several million refugees, mainly women and children, have landed to escape the carnage. Some adults are carrying their children and others their pets.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper spoke about children with advanced cancer being carried by their mothers from Kyiv to some place safer. Can you imagine? Can you imagine having to carry a dying child onto a packed train and having no places to sit for 24 hours? Imagine praying that across the border there will be a hospital that is not under threat of bombardment? Then imagine that child dead in your arms.

It would be easy to turn off the TV and tell yourself that this war is terrible but there’s nothing I can do by watching. You might have donated to a charitable cause, and I hope you have, to help the refugees and the people in Ukraine fighting so valiantly for their freedom.

But don’t look away. To hide our eyes from this horror show would be akin to refusing to look at a crucifix. “Yes, I know Christ died on the Cross but do I really need to be reminded of it every day?” Yes, we do.

Ukraine is now carrying the Cross to Golgotha … and not for the first time in its history.

During the 1930s Ukraine was subjected to forced starvation. The event, known as the Holodomor, left more than three million dead. Those who didn’t die were left with a ravished land and bitter memories of their dead children, spouses, family and friends.

It was done for no other reason than for Stalin to show the Ukrainian people who was boss. But rather than appeal to those poor people through charity, Stalin used terror. It’s the only language tyrants speak.

Putin is today’s Stalin. When Putin is photographed, often bare chested, he sports a Cross around his neck. It’s pure blasphemy.

We need to watch what’s going on to feel the suffering of the Ukrainian people. What we are seeing should make us sick. That is a form of solidarity: it’s carrying the pain of others.

In the 1930s and 1940s, before the age of the television and the Internet, it would have been easy to plead ignorance about world events. Through what is called the “fog of war,” it would have been easy to have been misled through propaganda coming from all sides.

But no one can say that now. It’s all before us. No one can plead ignorance.

For me this feels a little bit closer to home because my grandfather was Ukrainian. To be honest, I never really thought of that heritage until now.

During Lent, our eyes are on the Cross. During the Stations, we re-enact Christ’s passion. We are meant to focus on the terrible crime of deicide. We are supposed to understand that Christ was carrying the sins of the world and those sins were nailed to a Cross. He died for us.

Now Ukrainians are dying for us. They are a bulwark against tyranny. They are a mainly Christian nation feeling the attack of the anti-Christ.

We must feel their pain no matter the distress. Distress can be a great impetus for prayer. Just ask the Psalmists.

(Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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