A makeshift memorial quickly grew at Royal Canadian Mounted Police headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S, following the horrific slaughter of 22 people in April 2020 when a shooter when on a 13-hour rampage. CNS photo/John Morris, Reuters

Francis Campbell: Lent in the face of worldly cruelty

  • March 12, 2022

It can be a cruel, cruel world.

The stories from Ukraine, at times either heart-breaking or heart-lifting, are testament to that.

Families travelling to the border, there splitting up as children and a parent cross into a foreign land  while the other parent heads back to the capital of Kyiv to do whatever possible to protect the country against Russian invaders.

By last week, as the early days of March advanced the unprovoked Russian invasion into its second week, one million Ukrainians had fled their homeland for the safer borders of Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova.

It’s taken a severe toll on the people of Ukraine.

According to an ABC news story, when 25-year-old Yulia Yemelianenko crossed the border from Lviv, Ukraine, into Poland, she broke down in tears.

“I cried a lot,” she told ABC News at a train station in Przemysl, Poland. “I was forced to quit my country, and I didn’t want it.”

Yemelianenko said she wants to live in her city with her mother, who is recovering from COVID, and her friends.

Vladmir Putin, the authoritarian Russian leader, stated as his goals for invasion of a sovereign nation the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine. A blatant bully, it’s not likely that Putin will be satisfied with spreading his sphere of influence into neighbouring Ukraine.

Despite its military might, Putin and his Russian forces have been met with an unexpected and stubborn resistance in Ukraine.

Back in Moscow, Putin is no doubt nursing his grievances that the rest of the world doesn’t afford him the proper respect while practically taunting his global counterparts about not being able to do anything about the invasion.

Putin’s belligerence has foisted his cruel world on Ukraine but the world’s cruelty is not limited to Eastern Europe.

In Halifax, a young mother in her late 20s sits by herself inside a huge convention centre meeting room. A photo of her mother is placed on the table in front of her. The woman in the photo is one of 22 people killed two years ago in Canada’s worst mass murder. The convention centre is the setting for the long-awaited public inquiry into the killings.

The inquiry’s mandate is to find out what happened over those 13 horrific hours spanning two days in April 2020, why it happened and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The cruelty of the situation is still etched in the faces of the family members of the victims attending the inquiry.

Similar questions have probably been asked many times in recent days in Ukraine and in the days that followed the senseless killings in rural Nova Scotia in 2020. Where is God while these things are happening?

If God really loves us, why does He allow us to suffer, why does He allow terrorism, natural disasters, child abuse, wars and mass murders?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides its best answer in its Man’s Freedom section: “As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good, which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil. ... This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.”

Both Putin, as an authoritarian leader, and the Nova Scotia killer chose evil and merit  blame and reproach. But what are we to do about another’s evil?

For Catholics marking the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, the Church suggests three pillars of focus for Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Pope Francis invited all to make Ash Wednesday a day of fasting for peace. The Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese in Nova Scotia, as did others across the country, marked the beginning of Lent by offering a Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica for the people of Ukraine.

Development and Peace, for which Share Lent is an annual organizational highlight, has added an Emergency-Ukraine tab to its donation site.

When a mass murderer takes innocent lives, whether in an inexplicable shooting rampage on a peaceful April night in Nova Scotia or by needlessly flexing his nation’s military capabilities, our only recourse to combat such evil is to exercise the three Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting and giving for those lives lost and for the survivors who mourn them.

(Campbell is a reporter with the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.)

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