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Leaders seek prayer, advocacy and relief for Ukraine and its people

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Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican's permanent observer to the United Nations, speaks during a news conference addressing the state of affairs in war-ravaged Ukraine March 24, 2022, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

NEW YORK — Exactly one month after Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine, religious and diplomatic leaders urged prayer, advocacy and relief for Ukrainians and those who help them.

Participants at a media briefing March 24 near the main altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York offered candid assessments of the war’s physical and spiritual toll. They also expressed hope that unprecedented solidarity among the world’s people will help bring peace and solace in the conflict.

Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he tried unsuccessfully to appeal to the dignity and beliefs of Russian diplomats in the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly in the days before the Feb. 24 start of the war.

“I told the Russian ambassador that there is no purgatory for war criminals. I do believe that war criminals are going straight to hell, unfortunately. I invited him to pray for his salvation and for the salvation of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s henchmen,” he said.

Kyslytsya spoke before returning to the U.N. to vote on a General Assembly resolution to deliver humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

He said, “Healthy forces are clearly in the majority” at the U.N., but the organization closed its eyes to instances of “pure evil” perpetrated by the Russian Federation in Moldova, Syria, Georgia, the Central African Republic and other places in the 30 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

He said human trafficking is among the significant and realistic concerns for the more than 3 million vulnerable Ukrainians now “scattered across Europe.” Kyslytsya said trafficking is not a theoretical premise for academic discussion but should be part of planning in all of the places refugees are arriving.

He recalled that trafficking was hard to address when more than 1 million people arrived in Europe from the Middle East in a one-year period in the past decade. Now that 3 million-plus Ukrainians have become refugees in a matter of weeks, “you can imagine the scale of the tragedy and the volume of responsibility,” he said.

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, said that “what is happening now is a defeat of common humanity.”

He said in a meeting with the Russian ambassador to the Holy See and telephone conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and by dispatching high-level representatives, Pope Francis is trying to keep all doors open to restore peace.

He said Pope Francis has stressed the need to “stop the war, put down the weapons, take care of the people and talk about peaceful solutions.”

“The Holy Father does not despair, because we have the cross. It is a sign of the wickedness of human beings but also of hope that the Resurrection can overcome,” Archbishop Caccia said.