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Churches show solidarity with Ukrainians

28 February 2022

Russian shares are ditched; cathedrals lit in blue and yellow

St Albans Cathedral

St Albans

St Albans

AS CATHEDRALS have begun to be illuminated in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, and congregations have been praying for peace in Ukraine, the Church of England has announced that it is disinvesting from Russian companies.

The Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board instructed asset managers last Thursday to sell their “direct holdings” in Russian companies, a spokesperson said.

Church House would not provide details of the Russian companies, or the exact value of the holdings. Between them, the Church Commissioners and the Pension Board hold a portfolio of about £13 billion. The announcement said that the amount held in Russian companies before this decision constituted about 0.16 per cent — approximately £21 million — of the total.

The decision was made as senior figures in the Church of England condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine. On Thursday, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York described it as “an act of great evil” (News, 24 February).

On Sunday, the spire of Rochester Cathedral and other buildings were lit up in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.

The octagon tower of Ely Cathedral will be lit up until Thursday, during both the Church of England’s special prayers at 6 p.m. on Shrove Tuesday (1 March) and the day of prayer and fasting with a special intention called by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday (2 March).

Congregations are being invited to join in prayer with the diocese in Europe and the Kyiv chaplaincy. An online vigil will start at 6 p.m. Other events are being organised at the same time to create a “wave of prayer”.

At St Edmundsbury Cathedral, choristers will sing a Ukrainian Kyrie Eleison after evensong before prayers for Ukraine. Exeter Cathedral is also holding a vigil at 6 p.m.

Last Thursday, in a pastoral letter, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York reiterated their view that the invasion was an “act of evil” which had “rightly provoked outrage, sanctions and condemnation”.

They wrote: “We lament with the people of Ukraine, and we pray for the innocent, the frightened and those who have lost loved ones, homes, and family. We continue to call for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces as well as wide-ranging efforts to ensure peace, stability and security.”

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said, in a video on Facebook, on Friday, that “the people at our little church in Kyiv are right at the centre of this crisis. . . In the face of military action and aggression, we feel powerless. What can we do? One thing that we can all do is pray.”

Also on Friday, the Archbishop of York spoke of the value of prayer in such situations: “We pray because we believe God’s grace has the final word, not the horrors of sin, not death. We also pray because that prayer will shape our will and will shape our resolve.”

He was contributing to an emergency debate in the House of Lords, where he condemned the “flagrant disregard of the Ukrainian people’s legitimate right to self-determination” and said: “The horrors being visited on Ukraine must must be a wake-up call for us that peace is something you need to work at” (News, 25 February).

Pope Francis, in his address to those gathered for mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, appealed for humanitarian corridors to be opened to allow Ukrainians to escape the fighting.

Last Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said: “The humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating.”

The British Red Cross, UNICEF, Depaul International, and World Vision, are among the charities that have begun crisis appeals for those affected by the war. Christian Aid has called for an immediate ceasefire, and urged the UK Government to support humanitarian efforts and welcome vulnerable people fleeing the conflict.

The Disasters Emergency Committee launched an appeal on Thursday. CAFOD, which has joined the appeal, has donated £100,000 for its partners in Caritas Internationalis.

The President of Caritas Ukraine, Tetiana Stawnychy, said on Thursday: “The current crisis will inevitably lead to a colossal humanitarian catastrophe. I am truly proud of our team that are working hard to look to the needs of the most vulnerable, while managing their own circumstances as well. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from our partners and people of good will from abroad.

“This is a huge trauma. I see a lot of parents struggling to shepherd their children through this and running them down to the basement whenever the air raid sirens go off.

“People are moving. We have 25 welcome centres throughout Ukraine that have been providing hot food, shelter, psychosocial support, and a warm place to sleep, and then help people on their way. We’ve also been helping along the borders providing tents, heaters, hot food and drinks, and psychosocial support to women and children who are scared.”

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