CHURCH leaders in the UK and around the world have expressed their horror at the outbreak of war in Ukraine, and renewed the call for peace.
In a joint statement released on Thursday morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York said: “The horrific and unprovoked attack on Ukraine is an act of great evil. Placing our trust in Jesus Christ, the author of peace, we pray for an urgent ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian forces.”
The World Council of Churches (WCC) issued a statement reiterating their belief that “dialogue — based on the principles of international law and respect for established national borders — was and is the proper path for the resolution of tensions surrounding Ukraine.”
The statement called for “an immediate end to the current armed hostilities, and for the protection of all human lives and communities threatened by this violence. We urge all member churches and all people of good will around the world to join us in prayer for peace.”
In an unscheduled Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday morning, Archbishop Welby said: “To wake up to news of war is terrible. To wake up to its reality is orders of magnitude worse.”
Archbishop Welby said that “peace and justice” can “often seem to contrast, and yet they are opposite sides of the same coin. We seek peace and justice, and that must end with those involved in conflict not having solutions imposed on them, but finding for themselves the way forward towards reconciliation and peace.
“Right at the end of this life, Jesus Christ, on the eve of his crucifixion, spoke to his disciples, and he said something very memorable: ‘In the world you will have trouble, but do not be afraid: I have overcome the world.’ For me and for many of faith the great certainty in the world, the only certainty, is that we know that God does not change.”
Quoting William Shakespeare, Archbishop Welby continued: “Let us find our resolution, our peace, our certainty, not by ‘screwing up our courage’ but in the knowledge of the eternal arms that hold us. May God be with those who suffer today.”
Earlier on Thursday morning, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, wrote on Twitter: “We wake this morning to the sickening sights and sounds of war. Praying for all in Ukraine, for all who are fearful of what lies ahead and for the minimum possible bloodshed.
“At a time of international crisis, please join me in praying fervently for peace in Ukraine and especially for the wellbeing of our little Anglican community of Christ Church, Kyiv (which meets in the German Evangelical Church of St. Catherine’s).”
Bishop Robert co-ordinated an online prayer vigil on Thursday evening, including the Anglican chaplain in Moscow, the Revd Malcolm Rogers, and members of the Anglican community in Kyiv if it safe for them to do so. A further vigil is being organised by the Diocese in Europe on Shrove Tuesday (1 March) at 6 p.m.
On Thursday afternoon, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said: “This act of aggression impacts very harmfully on a free, democratic European state and on all the nations of Europe. I exhort you to pray for peace with justice for the people of Ukraine.”
In their statement, the Archbishops invited Christians to “make this Sunday a day for prayer for Ukraine, Russia, and for peace”, and also endorsed Pope Francis’s call to make Ash Wednesday (2 March) a global day of fasting and peace for Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis said: “Once again the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests”. He appealed to those “with political responsibility to examine their consciences seriously before God, who is the God of peace and not of war, who is the Father of all, not just of some, who wants us to be brothers and not enemies.”
And late on the same day, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, offered prayers for the “children of God whose lives and freedom are threatened”. He was speaking at an online interfaith vigil attended by representatives of more than a dozen faiths.
Lord Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “Our prayers are with the Ukrainian people who are now under attack and in fear of their lives.
“We call on the UK Government to join with governments across the world and together persuade all parties to agree to a ceasefire and to immediately return to the negotiating table.” He continued: “National governments need to find a way to work together for the sake of our common humanity,” and he urged the Government to offer assistance to people fleeing the area. This included the development of a plan to resettle refugees from the conflict and to support Ukraine’s neighbours as they cope with fall-out from the conflict.
Aid organisations, too, warned of a looming humanitarian disaster. Lani Fortier, senior director of emergencies at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said on Thursday: “We truly hope we can avert disaster and avoid the human suffering we will inevitably see if this conflict continues to escalate. However, the IRC is ready and preparing for the worst.”
Children are particularly at risk, said Eleanor Monbiot of World Vision. She added: “We are supporting our office in Romania to be ready to respond, should children and their families be forcibly displaced from Ukraine and need emergency assistance.”
The Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian charity that promotes peace, has called for an end to the violence and the resumption of dialogue. The director of the charity, John Cooper, said: “We urge all nations to offer sanctuary to those who flee for their own safety, and highlight calls for human-rights observers to ensure any abuses carried out in war do not go unpunished.”
Amnesty International has vowed to monitor the situation closely. In a statement on Thursday, its secretary-general, Agnès Callamard, said: “Our worst fears have been realised. After weeks of escalation, a Russian invasion that is likely to lead to the most horrific consequences for human lives and human rights has begun.”