An interview with Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv about the ongoing humanitarian consequences of war in Ukraine
In February 2023, on the first anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv thanked the Knights of Columbus for its prayerful support and material aid for “these least brothers of mine” (Mt 25:40). “Keep praying and supporting us,” he said. “Whatever you have done, you have done for Christ.”
A personal secretary to both St. John Paul II (1996-2005) and Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2007), Archbishop Mokrzycki has led the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv since 2008. In May 2012, he became one of the first Knights of Columbus in Ukraine, together with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and others. The Order now counts more than 2,000 Ukrainian members, many of whom stand on the front lines of charity with the support of the Order’s Ukraine Solidarity Fund, which has raised more than $22 million to aid victims of war.
As the second anniversary of the war approaches Feb. 24, Archbishop Mokrzycki spoke to Columbia about the devastating consequences of the ongoing war; the perseverance and faith that are keeping the spirit of hope alive in his country; and the material and spiritual support that comes from a brotherhood spread across continents.
COLUMBIA: It has been nearly two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. How has your country’s situation changed in that time, and how is the ongoing war affecting civilians?
ARCHBISHOP MIECZYSŁAW MOKRZYCKI: It is often said that people can get used to anything over time — be it luxury, sickness or suffering. Some say that we Ukrainians have gotten used to the war, but I think this is far from true. Joy, even experienced often, still makes you happy. Suffering, even recurring, always brings you pain. A lasting war may become daily bread — but it is bitter bread.
This war brings both physical and moral harm; it brings anxiety, fear and instability. Young men are still called up for military service, but there are far fewer men than before. A lot of soldiers have died. So many women and children lost their husbands and fathers. All the hospitals in Ukraine, from Zaporizhzhia to Lviv, are overcrowded with civilians and soldiers. There are refugees and daily sirens in many cities. A lot of companies closed down because they didn’t have enough employees to work.
I thank God that in my diocese we’re not lacking food, but it is apparent that people from the outskirts and the countryside are impoverished. Now, in churches, we see mostly older people, women and children. There is a general atmosphere of tension even in those regions of Ukraine where war seems more distant.
COLUMBIA: How has this war affected people’s faith, as well as the relationship among the different Christian communities?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: Obviously, people are deeply tired of the situation. But the spirit of hope has not died in the heart of the nation, and neither has faith. People continue to attend Mass and to pray. They still place hope in God, who alone can guarantee the victory of good against evil.
I often see the light of deep faith shine in the darkness of suffering. I recall the stunning words of a mother of one of our fallen soldiers while standing over the grave of her son: “I lost you, but I thank God for the gift of having you at all and for the chance of raising you for all those years.”
Our people know that their lives are not useless or empty. They believe in eternal life — and faith gives them the strength to endure this trial.
When we attend funerals, whole communities gather to pay their respects to the deceased. Priests of different rites are also present, and we have grown closer as a result. I think that the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant clergy feel more united in the face of war and suffering. And the faithful also stand in solidarity with one another. There is a great spirit of respect and community.
COLUMBIA: What do Ukrainians need most right now, both materially and spiritually?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: Western Ukraine is largely free from material struggles, and we feel relatively safe. But we cannot forget that the war is going on, and some parts of Ukraine have suffered severe damage. People there are in desperate need of help. In eastern Ukraine, where the fighting carries on, the need for help is much greater. Civilians flee from those regions, seeking safety further west. Waves of internal refugees, who often fled with only the bare minimum, find themselves homeless and at the mercy of others.
Local bishops call for help, and we try to support the most affected parts of Ukraine as much as we can. Our brothers and sisters still living there lack everything: food, water, a roof over their heads. They face a real humanitarian crisis.
Apart from material needs, many of my fellow citizens also need psychological and spiritual help. I often encourage our Knights to get engaged, to be close to those families and offer them not only material help but also moral support by being present. That’s part of our calling. Blessed Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus to take care of the widows and orphans left destitute and alone after the death of their husbands and fathers. This is a way for the Knights to respond to their calling of charity.
COLUMBIA: What has been the scope of the aid provided by the Knights of Columbus?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: Since the very beginning of the war, we experienced extraordinary support from our brothers, especially from Poland and North America. The Knights of Columbus is very well known in our country: Trucks with the K of C emblem have been driving through the entire country, transporting humanitarian aid.
The Order’s presence here is providential. Brother Knights help everyone, not only Catholics. They help the faithful of different Christian communities and nonbelievers as well. Knights provide continuous, specific aid for local needs, such as cleaning supplies, food, clothing, wheelchairs or power generators. We’re extremely grateful and feel a sense of unity with the members all over the world. Ukrainian Knights are the last link in the chain of solidarity that starts in North America and moves through Poland.
Knights also offer their presence and time to the victims of the war. They meet with them and talk with them. They become witnesses of faith and, in a sense, missionaries, evangelizing with their actions. I cannot help but think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. As Knights, we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
COLUMBIA: How has the presence of the Order continued to develop in Ukraine?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: The number of members has grown quickly over the last several years, exceeding our expectations. This is the fruit of Past Supreme Knight Carl Anderson’s prudence and courage in following God’s inspiration to establish the Knights of Columbus in Ukraine, where the Catholic Church is not very large. I am quite certain that the visits of both Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly and Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori to Ukraine will prove very fruitful, too.
The pope, as head of the Church, often travels to different countries to meet his faithful and give them hope. In the same way, the supreme knight, as head of the Order, visited his Knights to show his solidarity and support, strengthening the conviction of our Ukrainian brothers that their work is needed and recognized. He also met with refugees and parishioners, prepared care packages in Bryukhovychi, and distributed food to refugees in the shelter of the Albertines in Lviv — those are memorable encounters.
The same goes for the visit of the supreme chaplain, Archbishop Lori. He met the Knights and chaplains to encourage and strengthen them. They felt supported, knowing they weren’t left alone in a faraway country. I am certain those events will bear spiritual fruits among the Knights.
COLUMBIA: Is there any other message that you would like to address to brother Knights?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to our brothers around the world, who pray for us continuously. There have been so many rosaries prayed for our intentions already! We really feel connected by family bonds. I would also like to thank the Knights for all the material aid that has reached us from Poland and North America.
Thank you for not forgetting about us and not letting the world forget about us, because the war is still present. And it is the most harmful for the innocent and vulnerable civilians, who are the victims of this cruel injustice. We still need that unity which comes from prayer, mutual goodwill and kindness.
I would also like to thank the Ukrainian Knights for their presence, for not losing hope and for their dependable and earnest engagement, which is the realization of the principles of the Order. They embody charity by their selfless service to their brothers and every Ukrainian in need. They courageously share what they have with the less fortunate, even if they do not have much.
Every small act of solidarity is invaluable. It rekindles hope, gives comfort and strength to face adversities, and fends off despair.
COLUMBIA: What role have other Catholics, both clergy and laity, played during this time of war?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: As priests, we continue to celebrate Mass and to invite our parishioners to pray and practice penance. We encourage them to pray the rosary, as Our Lady of Fatima explicitly asked us to pray the rosary for the conversion of Russia and to pray for God’s mercy upon sinners. We pray for peace, for the happy return of those who fight on the front, for the protection of families who have lost loved ones. We also pray for our national leaders, so they act with care, justice and honesty. Along with our Holy Father, we encourage prayer and fasting on Fridays for peace in Ukraine.
The lay faithful have helped since the first moments of war. Entire parishes are engaged in helping and supporting the vulnerable. This engagement is very important; it’s proof that our communities know how crucial solidarity is.
Humanitarian aid organizations such as Caritas and private people cooperate and display great solidarity. In many parishes, refugees who lost everything, but also local inhabitants who suffer from scarcity of means, receive food packages or other essential goods so that they can survive.
COLUMBIA: The war brings long-lasting consequences and hard-to-heal wounds. What future do you see for Ukraine?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: Indeed, the war brings consequences that we will be coping with for many years: morally and physically injured men fighting on the front, widowed women, orphaned children, survivors of trauma who will need psychological support and pastoral care. Veterans will need therapy; a lot of them live in rehabilitation centers because they haven’t managed to return to normalcy. Support is needed for widowed mothers who are alone and helpless after the death of their husbands. Such wounds will take years, if not generations, to heal.
The second year of the war was the second year without schooling for many children. Some of them didn’t learn to read or write because they didn’t have access to schooling.
The war forces us to ask questions that are difficult to answer, but we know that our God is a God of peace and that he is good. With proper support, we will find a way out of this situation. Nothing is impossible for God. We are all counting on his intervention, that he will transform our hearts and the hearts of our leaders and that, finally, we will find peace.
COLUMBIA: How can one find God’s presence in all of this suffering?
ARCHBISHOP MOKRZYCKI: In critical situations — war, natural disasters — we can hear voices of despair: God, where are you? Why do you let this happen? But we know that good will triumph over evil. By his incarnation, by his life and his death on the cross, Christ showed us that he is with us, that he embraces our suffering in his own suffering, and that he embraces our death in his own death. He proved to us that our life does not end here on earth but extends into eternity.
This is the place where our faith proves practically helpful; it helps us endure times of war and endure doubts and crises. Faith shows unequivocally there is a way out of the most hopeless situations. Even if we sometimes feel like everything is lost, we have the conviction that something better awaits us — an eternity of joy.