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Cold War history reminds us of how we can help Ukraine: Pray

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

With many others, I have been very distressed watching the news reports regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

With the senseless loss of human lives, with tremendous increase of human suffering and the massive destruction of infrastructure and buildings, we are reminded again that war is never a solution and always an enormous tragedy.

Even amid the devastation of war, one finds examples of amazing heroism. The bravery of the Ukrainian leaders and people, as they courageously fight to preserve their nation from unjust aggression, has inspired the entire world.

There can be no moral justification for 1) invading without provocation a neighboring country; 2) the heartless targeting of innocent noncombatants; and 3) the reckless attacks on nuclear power plants placing millions at risk.

Russian President Putin’s ominous threats of nuclear retaliation if any nation dare fight alongside the valiant, but outnumbered and under- resourced, Ukrainians is a prime example of international bullying.

I applaud any and all genuine peace efforts. However, it is difficult to be optimistic about diplomatic success with the Russians even violating truces for the humanitarian evacuation of noncombatants.

It seems doubtful that President Putin’s ambitions will end with Ukraine. If Putin succeeds in conquering Ukraine with little consequence to him and Russia, what will prevent Putin from systematically taking over other bordering nations? Putin has learned that he can paralyze the opposition with threats of nuclear retaliation. Humanly speaking, the situation appears impossible.

I am old enough to remember the Cold War. I recall air raid drills in elementary school. The archbishop’s residence, where I reside, was built in the 1950s, complete with a bomb shelter. I am uncertain about its ability to protect against a nuclear attack but it should be a safe haven against a Kansas tornado.

I also remember in the mid-1950s the Hungarian revolt being brutally crushed by the Soviet Union. I recall the massive airlift that was necessary to preserve West Berlin from being taken over by Communist rule. I remember the high anxiety caused by the Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war in the early 1960s.

Winston Churchill dubbed the Soviet military presence and domination of Eastern Europe as an Iron Curtain that kept citizens of formerly independent nations trapped under the control of atheistic communism. 

The liberation of Eastern European nations from the domination of Communist Russia seemed like an impossible dream.

Throughout my childhood and well into my 30s, there was little hope that the Iron Curtain would collapse anytime soon. Enormous diplomatic efforts coupled with military vigilance was required just to maintain the status quo.

At Fatima in 1917, Mary asked the visionaries to urge Catholics throughout the world to pray the rosary for peace both within families and among nations. Mary also encouraged prayers for the conversion of Russia. Some embraced Mary’s request and prayed the rosary fervently, but little appeared to change.

In 1978, the cardinals of the Catholic Church chose St. John Paul II as pope. It was a shock that a non-Italian was elected, much less a Polish cardinal who had spent his entire ordained ministry behind the Iron Curtain and under religious persecution.

In early June of 1979, Pope John Paul II made a nine-day historic pastoral visit to his native Poland. Newt and Callista Gingrich in 2010 produced a documentary about John Paul’s pastoral visit to his homeland that was entitled “Nine Days that Changed the World.”

During his pastoral visit, Pope John Paul reminded the Polish people of their Christian history and attempted to give back to them their Polish identity.

The pope celebrated a Mass in Victory Square in Warsaw. During his homily, the huge crowd began spontaneously chanting: “We want God!” This was an amazing expression of courage and heroism by the Polish people. It was an example of peaceful defiance to an atheistic Soviet puppet government.

Pope John Paul’s visit to Poland was the beginning of the end to the Iron Curtain. Ten years later, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and in short order, Eastern European countries like Ukraine had gained their independence.

What is most amazing is all of this was achieved without violence. This was one of the great miracles of modern history.

Of course, there were many other important factors impacting the peaceful end of the Cold War. Polish workers began the Solidarity union movement that, among other things, exposed the communist failure to help working people.

President Ronald Regan and an array of effective European leaders were critical in bringing an end to the enslavement of so many nations to the Soviet Union.

How does remembering this recent history, while the world holds its breath with the fear of the possibility of World War III, help us discern the best path forward in 2022?

It reminds us that we must pray. Specifically, we need to pray the rosary for peace in our families and in our world.

We were created to be in communion with God. In our increasingly secularized culture, we need to give witness as did the Polish people in Victory Square in June 1979 that we want God. Our own priorities need to reflect that we place God first in our lives. We must be willing to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to empower us to bring an end to the madness of war.

St. John Paul in his 1999 pastoral visit to St. Louis said: “If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace the truth.” This formula for peace is as true today as it was in 1999.

We need to pray fervently for peace and ask Our Lord specifically to raise up the right constellation of leaders that will help us find the path for a just and lasting peace — not only in Ukraine, but in the entire world.

Allow me to conclude with another quote from St. John Paul that is apt for our time: “I plead with you — never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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