Ukrainian Catholic Bishop of UK joins Pope Francis in consecrating Russia to Virgin Mary

The pope is understood to have issued the order in response to pleas from Church leaders in Ukraine

Pope Francis prays during a penitential celebration service at St.  Peter's Basilica on March 25, 2022 in The Vatican, during which he is to consecrates Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO  /  AFP)

The Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the UK has spoken of the powerful interventions by Pope Francis since Russia's invasion as he prepared to join bishops from around the world in a ceremony from Rome.

In response to a direct request from bishops in Ukraine on the 30th day of the war, Pope Francis is to lead a service of consecration for Ukraine and Russia.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski told The National that church attendance at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Mayfair, London, had jumped by a third since the war started, as the Ukrainian diaspora sought comfort in their faith and searched for hope. They had taken inspiration from the way Pope Francis had called for an end to the conflict from the outset.

Last week he issued some of his strongest comments in asserting Ukraine's right to exist as a sovereign nation and its right to defend itself.

Pope Francis denounced the “perverse abuse of power” by Russia and called for more aid to be sent to Ukrainians, whom he said had been attacked in their “identity, history and tradition” and were “defending their land”.

This week he called increased defence spending by western nations since the invasion of Ukraine “madness” and said a new way must be found to balance world power.

Speaking to a coalition of women's groups on Thursday, the pope said the conflict in Ukraine was a product of “the old logic of power that still dominates so-called geopolitics”. The real response was not more weapons, he said.

“I was embarrassed when I read that a group of states have committed to spending 2 per cent of GDP in acquiring weapons as a response to what is happening now. Madness,” he said.

Bishop Nowakowski, who leads the congregation at the cathedral as well as overseeing the work of 14 Ukrainian Catholic dioceses in the UK, said the message would be a unifying one, not just for Catholics but also the Orthodox tradition.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski is head of Ukrainian Catholic Church in the UK. Photo: Marcin Mazur

“We ask others to pray for us and we flee to Jesus’s mother as our advocate,” said Bishop Nowakowski. “What we are asking as her children is that we would be protected, that we would have peace.”

As the message comes from Rome, Bishop Nowakowski will lead his congregation in praying for an end to the fighting, imploring God to “open our hearts and the hearts of the perpetrators to end this needless violence”.

Since the invasion his church has hosted guests such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The bishop, who met Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2013, praised his efforts to bring about an end to the war in Ukraine, saying he had been “very supportive” of the Ukrainian community. A day after Russia invaded its neighbour, the head of the Catholic Church visited the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to express his concern and appeal for peace.

Bishop Nowakowski, the son of third generation Ukrainian immigrants in Canada, worked for the Catholic Church in Ukraine for 10 years before being appointed head of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Slovak Eastern Catholics in Britain in 2020.

He said since the war broke out, Mass attendance on Sundays at the cathedral in London had increased by a third from 2,000 to 3,000.

“I think the reason we are seeing more people coming is that in times of trouble you certainly will have people turning to each other for comfort and support,” he said.

“God is always present in our lives whether we know it or not but in times of a challenge I think we try to find God to help us understand those challenges and the direction we need to go, and perhaps when seemingly everything is fine we think we can rely on ourselves.

“In times of challenges, whether it’s what we saw on 9/11 or when we’re seeing natural disasters, people come together in communities in ways that they didn’t anticipate they needed when life was seemingly normal.

“The horror that we are seeing on TV shows is something that is absolutely unthinkable,” he said. “Can it really be that today we are seeing hospitals bombed, private residences bombed, shopping malls bombed?”

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Updated: March 25, 2022, 5:38 PM