Bishop Olson prays, blesses, offers solace to St. Sophia Ukrainian parishioners at Mass
THE COLONY — Bishop Michael Olson joined Father Pavlo Popov, the pastor of St. Sophia Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and the faithful of the parish at their celebration of Mass on Sunday, March 6.
The small church in The Colony overflowed with parish members and others who came to show their support to the Ukrainian community since Ukraine was invaded by Russian forces on February 24.
Bishop Olson explained, “This visit is an opportunity for us to pray together as God’s people and ask Him to give us peace and an end to this terrible war, this unjust assault upon Ukraine, and also to give solace, for many people here have relatives and friends who are still in Ukraine, to ask God to bless them and help them.”
The bishop delivered the homily and noted that Catholic unity “brings us together today not out of fear but out of faith, hope, and love.”
Parishioners of St. Sophia, most of whom have family and friends in Ukraine, have spent the days since the Russian invasion praying with faith, hope, and love while battling anxiety and fear for their loved ones and their homeland.
Marta Petrash is a St. Sophia parishioner who grew up in Ukraine, where her mother, brother, and other relatives and friends still live. Each day she calls her mother, who is staying with relatives in a rural area, where she is fairly safe for now.
However, she has friends in major cities who are sheltering in a neighbor’s basement or in the underground subway stations to avoid shelling.
Petrash, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1991, thinks Russia’s leaders and its army have been surprised at the fierce fighting the invading forces have encountered. “Ukrainian citizens are fighting this war, not just the Ukrainian Army,” she said.
She and others with Ukrainian heritage have been frequenting local rallies to garner popular support and local media coverage for Ukraine. She believes the significance of protecting Ukrainian democracy extends beyond the country’s borders, saying, “Ukraine is fighting for Europe, the entire free world.”
She observed the Taiwanese community in North Texas has attended some of the rallies to show solidarity with Ukraine. The Taiwanese fear that China is likely to invade Taiwan if the global community permits Russia to claim Ukraine.
Petrash said especially in these troubled times, “The church is a community with a lot of Ukrainians that can support each other emotionally. These are hurting times for everyone.”
Chrystya Geremesz, a St. Sophia parishioner and co-founder of the Ukrainian American Society of Texas, has been organizing rallies as “our way of grieving. It’s a release from fear and anxiety,” she said. It’s also an opportunity to share firsthand information from families in Ukraine with the public, because the “misinformation trolls have ramped up,” she said.
Hearing reports that civilian structures including churches, schools, and apartments are being shelled and that Russian forces have seized control of two of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants adds to Geremesz’s “ridiculous” amount of stress.
Still, the realtor said she “keeps relying on faith. We hope and pray we can welcome a time of peace and tranquility to Ukraine. We hope the world can help build Ukraine back up.”
Since the invasion, Mark Krasij checks the news every five to 10 minutes, paying special attention to whether bombs have hit the historic churches that date back 1,000 years, to the advent of Christianity in the Eastern European country. The UTA math instructor, whose parents hail from the region, summarized the events of the past 10 days as “madness.”
Although the news brings him to tears, he is heartened by the countries and people providing humanitarian aid and prayers. “Everyone needs to pray,” he said. “Pray for safety; pray for a change of heart of Putin and his inner circle.”
In his homily at St. Sophia, Bishop Olson advised the parishioners not to allow hatred for “Putin, the unrepentant Soviet, and his thuggish minions” to enter their hearts. He said, “As we unite in prayer and response to assist the persecuted members of your families, the people of Ukraine, in their deliverance from oppression and war, let us ask God to deliver us from the temptation to hate and to follow the path of the great deceiver who is a liar.”
St. Sophia Pastor Fr. Popov also cautioned against hatred, saying we must “do everything we can not to allow that anger and hatred — that’s a poison you don’t want to let in. Once you let it in, it will grow there; it’s hard to get rid of it. We try to chip in, with prayers, with financial support, whatever we can do to help, yet at the same time not to fill our hearts with despair, hatred, anger.”
For Christians, “There is always hope…. There is light, there is life at the end,” he stated, noting that many of his parishioners are still in a state of shock and disbelief.
Many local Catholics have expressed a desire to assist those suffering in Ukraine and the 1.7 million refugees who have fled the country since the Russian invasion. In the Diocese of Fort Worth, a special collection for Catholic Relief Services is scheduled for the weekend of March 26-27. CRS partners with Caritas Ukraine to provide humanitarian relief across Ukraine and bordering countries.
Bishop Olson also suggested supporting Catholic Charities Fort Worth and Catholic Charities Dallas, which will be assisting refugees coming from Ukraine in the future.