When the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine broke on Wednesday (Thursday Australian time), I was scrolling through Twitter. What had been a mindless activity quickly became furious refreshing in a quest for more details and developments. Interspersed among the news and commentary—videos of a CNN reporter changing into protective gear as explosions rocked Kyiv and partisans finding a usual target to blame for a conflict thousands of miles away—were prayers.
In the case of Ukraine, most Americans are unable to influence President Putin or the course of the war (though we can donate to humanitarian groups on the ground). So prayers are really all that’s left. But what do they achieve? What am I supposed to say or feel when I pray for Ukraine? Is this about convincing God to intervene or simply softening my own heart so I can suffer with my Ukrainian brothers and sisters?
To get answers to these questions, I turned to my colleague at America, James Martin, S.J., who not only wrote the book Learning to Pray but has been a spiritual guide who, for the past eight years, has helped me process the (many) insecurities I have around my prayer life.
AM: Why should Catholics pray for peace in Ukraine?
JM: First of all, peace is something that Jesus desires. One of the most common phrases in all his public ministry is “Peace be with you.” In fact, it is the first thing that the Risen Christ says to the disciples after the Resurrection. Notice he does not say, “Believe that nothing is impossible with God” or “The Father has raised me from the dead” or even “I have conquered death,” all of which are true, but something simpler: “Peace be with you.” Christ desired peace for the disciples and desires peace for us. Christ also desires unity. “That they all may be one,” he prays elsewhere in the Gospels. And so peace and unity are at the heart of the Christian message. We should beg God to help us effect this peace, especially in war-torn places like Ukraine.
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Ashley McKinless is an executive editor at America.
The Rev. James Martin, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, author and editor at large at America.
With thanks to America and Ashley McKinless and Fr James Martin SJ, where this article originally appeared.