SPECIAL REPORT: Perth Ukrainian Catholic Priest joins Archbishop Costelloe for Ash Wednesday Celebrations

03 Mar 2022

By Jamie O'Brien

Perth Ukrainian Parish Priest Fr Ihor Holovko has this week spoken of the deep sadness of his people and the horror which is being visited upon them. Photo: Michelle Tan.

Perth Ukrainian Catholic Parish Priest, Father Ihor Holovko, has this week joined Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB at St Mary‘s Cathedral for the Ash Wednesday Mass, marking the beginning of the season of Lent.

At the beginning of Mass, Archbishop Costelloe reminded the congregation of the call by Pope Francis to make Ash Wednesday a day of special prayer and fasting in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and to pray for the gift of peace.

Speaking about the conflict in Ukraine, Archbishop Costelloe first highlighted that as the first reading says, our God is a God of tenderness and compassion.

“The images on our television screens of fathers, and some mothers, tenderly and tearfully kissing their young children goodbye as the adults prepare to defend their country, precisely for the sake of their children’s future, remind us, too, that tenderness and compassion are not signs of weakness but of courage and strength.

Perth Ukrainian Catholic Parish Priest, Father Ihor Holovko, with Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB at St Mary‘s Cathedral for the Ash Wednesday Mass, marking the beginning of the season of Lent. Photo: Michelle Tan.

“We pray that the God of tenderness will give courage and strength to those whose lives and freedoms are under attack,” he said.

At the end of Mass, Father Ihor thanked everyone for the support for the people of Ukraine which has been so evident, not only in the Catholic community, but in the wider community of Perth and Western Australia. 

Father Ihor spoke of the deep sadness of his people and of the horror which is being visited upon them and asked for continued prayers, not only for the end of the war, but for the restoration of peace.

Bishops call for peace in Ukraine, generous Australian response

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Mark Coleridge has last week also expressed indignation at the situation in Ukraine and called for a rejection of the madness of war and a return to reason, saying “the peace of the world is at stake”.

“We express our deep compassion for the people of Ukraine and our solidarity with all people of Ukrainian heritage here in Australia,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

Australia’s Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Mykola Bychok has said there has been growing fear in his homeland in recent weeks. That fear was realised this week. Photo: ACBC

“It’s not enough to condemn the bloodshed, breathe threats and take half-measures. The entire international community – including Australia – needs to do all in its power to stop the violence.

“This isn’t some geopolitical game. Lives are at stake. The lies have to stop. Truth and justice have to prevail if there is to be a future for all of us.

“Ukraine may seem a long way from Australia, but what’s happening there is not. Ukraine has become the world which will never be the same because of this militarised barbarism.”

Caritas Zaporizhzhia delivering food kits in the settlements of Ocheretynska and Mariinska Civil-military administrations of Eastern Ukraine. Photo: Caritas Ukraine.

Bishop Mykola Bychok, the leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia, said there has been growing fear in his homeland in recent weeks. That fear was realised this week.

“Ukraine is a peaceful nation; we don’t want war. An escalated Russian invasion will result in many more dead and injured, millions of refugees, more tears and pain,” he said.

“This is a question of life and death as nostalgia for an empire lost has led to senseless slaughter and immense suffering throughout Ukraine.”

Volunteers distribute food in buffer zones. Photo: Caritas Ukraine.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country whose identity long predates the Soviet Union and which has been widely recognised as a sovereign nation since 1991, is also likely to see the freedom of Ukrainian Catholics to practise their faith curtailed.

This would be all the more bitter for a Church which for 70 years was persecuted and forced underground, Bishop Bychok said.

Queueing for support in Ukraine. Photo: Caritas Ukraine.

Caritas Australia welcomes $35 million commitment for humanitarian aid in Ukraine  

Caritas Australia has this week welcomed the initial $35 million commitment from the Australian Government for urgent humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.   

“This humanitarian aid is desperately needed in Ukraine right now,” said Caritas Australia CEO, Kirsty Robertson.

Humanitarian assistance in buffer zone. Photo: Caritas Ukraine.

“Over half a million people have already been forced to flee their homes, and this number could balloon into three or even five million in the coming weeks as more villages, towns and cities are victims of air raids and attacks. Another 100,000 people are displaced inside Ukraine as well – and all in below freezing winter conditions.”  

“This mass displacement is extremely hard to respond to. The queues at the border to Poland are up to 15km long, and families are fleeing the country on foot, with very limited access to water, food, or even toilet facilities – let alone a safe place to sleep that night. This humanitarian need will likely only increase over the coming weeks and months.” 

Caritas Spes providing hot meals for people waiting to cross the border to Poland. Photo Caritas Spes.

Caritas Australia is working directly with Caritas Ukraine and its local partner Caritas Spes to support Ukrainian families who have fled their homes with vital emergency supplies including food, hygiene kits, clean water, psychological support, and emergency shelter to displaced families. 

Donations can be made at: www.caritas.org.au/ukraine/ 

Distribution of emergency goods to displaced families in Odessa. Photo: Caritas Spes Ukraine.