The deadly pandemic seems to have cured people who could never look beyond the borders of their own countries. It showed them that what happens in a far-away country can very quickly affect them. They saw for themselves that the virus which originated in China could kill people in every part of the globe.
Jesuits and all those who share their spirituality did not need a pandemic to realize that we live in a global village. Wherever we might have been born, since all humans are God’s children, we can’t be anyone else than global citizens. Therefore a tragedy that strikes a country – any country – should bother us all.
This is why, feeling overwhelmed by what happened on 24 February 2022, I used my regular column in the New Leader to express all that I thought and felt. In the article titled, ‘Just when the world heaved a sigh of relief…’ I wrote:
“Who would have imagined that just when the world was beginning to heave a sigh of relief over the gradual decline of the pandemic, Russia’s strong man, Vladimir Putin, would come up with something that would plunge the world back into shock, sorrow, worry and fear?
“Most people believed that, after having witnessed the manifold horrors of war in the two World Wars, no sane leader will ever initiate a war, whatever may be their grievances. Successive Popes had expressed the hope that humans will never again choose the path of war, as it does not lead us anywhere, as it does not solve any problem, in spite of the deaths and destruction it causes. But the world had not taken into account the mindset of the man who now rules Russia.
“What are the reasons Putin proffers for his invasion? He says Russia’s security is under threat, because Ukraine wants to join NATO. Why does Ukraine want to join NATO and the European Union? Because of Russia’s attitude and actions. In 2014 Russia brazenly attacked and annexed Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine. Russia keeps arming the separatists in Ukraine’s two Russian-speaking regions. What will you do when a powerful bully wants to control you and keeps interfering in your own affairs? You will ask for help from someone who could protect you from the bully, won’t you?
“After Ukraine broke free from the erstwhile Soviet Union, it became a democracy and its people had come to cherish the freedoms they enjoyed in a democracy. Putin, on the other hand, brooks no rivals, no opponents in Russia. Anyone who dares to criticize him is jailed. This is why thousands of Russian people who protest against this war are arrested.
“Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”. He has been open about his nostalgia for the Soviet Union that had around it satellite nations of Eastern Europe that were all totalitarian Communist States. When these countries became free, many of them opted for democracy. Those who know Putin say that since the Soviet Union cannot be brought back, he longs to reinvent ‘Ancient Rus’ – a vast empire comprising Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. But do your longings justify an invasion and its aftermath? And what about the longings of the Ukrainian people? Don’t they have the right to choose their leaders and allies, the political system of their country?
“Therefore can anyone justify this invasion? Can this war ever be a just war? If any war can be termed as a ‘Just War’ it is only the war imposed on the victim nation that is forced to protect itself against the unjust aggressor. In an editorial, The Tablet said, “Democracy, the desire of a people to be governed by those they have freely elected –government of the people, by the people, for the people, in Lincoln’s famous phrase – is, in the modern age, not negotiable. Defending it is the ultimate just cause.”
“That is exactly what the brave Ukrainians are engaged in, although they are outmanned and outgunned. Before Putin sent his army, they were fighting the deadly Covid virus for two years. Before Covid began its rampage, Ukraine had to deal with an outbreak of polio across the country.
“It was heartrending to see Ukranian women bidding a tearful farewell to their sons or husbands, who chose to stay and defend their country, and carrying their children and huddling in underground shelters or crowding into buses and trains, hoping to seek refugee in a neighbouring country. The U.N. Agency for Refugees says that already 3 million Ukrainians have become refugees.
“Pope Francis has shown how everyone should respond to this war. He called upon Catholics all over the world to fast and pray on Ash Wednesday for an immediate end to the war. In an unprecedented departure from diplomatic protocol, he visited the Russian embassy to the Vatican to convey his shock, sorrow and concern. In his Angelus message a few days later, he made a heart-felt plea once again to stop the war that has given rise to “rivers of blood and tears.” He sent two Cardinals to Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, saying their presence among the suffering people will signify that he, all the Christians in the world and all who agree that war is madness are present with them.
“Some have recalled that the Blessed Virgin, when she appeared to three children in Fatima, asked all to pray for the conversion of Russia. The Russian people did not want this war. We should pray for the conversion of Putin and his cohorts who did.”
As I write, the war is still on. The number of the dead and the wounded keeps going up and several buildings, including hospitals, theatres, nurseries and apartments, seem to have been reduced to rubble. Leaders of Israel, Turkey and France have tried to speak to Putin, but their efforts have yielded nothing.
The U.N.’s resolutions have been utterly futile. Pope Francis’ repeated pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Ukraine’s courage and resistance have surprised the world, but we don’t know what the wounded ego of the Russian dictator may provoke him to.
Yet another shock is the deep economic crisis Sri Lanka has plunged into and the sufferings its people are subjected to. Like Russia, Sri Lanka reveals what the misguided policies of misguided leaders can bring to their people. Authoritarianism, racism and linguistic chauvinism may help unscrupulous politicians win an election, but soon the gullible people who voted for them pay a heavy price. We have a lot, therefore, to pray for during the Holy Week this year. May Easter this year bring to our wounded world what the Risen Lord wished for those to whom he appeared – peace!
In this issue, we are introducing something which can be done only in an online magazine – videos. Let the videos draw you into the article!
– M.A. Joe Antony, SJ