Chicago Catholic School students gather in a Ukrainian village to pray for peace nearly a month after the Russian invasion

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Students from four Catholic schools in Chicago gathered Monday afternoon in the Ukrainian Village to pray for Ukraine.

Students and teachers from St. Pius V in Pilsen, St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Nicholas of Tolentine in West Lawn gathered in the school gymnasium at St. Nicholas Cathedral, 2200 W Rice St., for a vigil.

Led by two eighth graders from St. Nicholas, the students lit candles, recited prayers to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine and shouted pro-Ukrainian slogans.

“We are here to pray for peace,” said student Paul Skomoroch. “This conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not new. Ukraine is its own independent country, with its own stories, beliefs, language, culture and traditions.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A student-led vigil with three Catholic schools was held at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in the Ukrainian village amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 21, 2022.

The gymnasium was adorned with banners supporting Ukrainian independence, with slogans proclaiming “Hands Off Ukraine” and “Say No To War”.

St. Nicholas has become a hub for Ukrainian students fleeing the war since the invasion began nearly a month ago. The school has enrolled 17 Ukrainian students, administrators said.

Last week St. Nicholas asked for donations to support new students and families arriving from Ukraine.

The school has since received an influx of clothing, school supplies, toiletries and other items. That includes about 500 donation boxes received Monday morning, deputy director Lisa Swytnyk said.

Swytnyk said the school expects more Ukrainian students in the coming weeks, but cannot predict when they will arrive.

“It’s not like we knew beforehand. They just show up…here or next to the church, and they bring them here,” Swytnyk said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A classroom is filled with hundreds of donations at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in the Ukrainian village amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 21, 2022.

At the vigil, students prayed for the safety of Ukrainian soldiers, children, clergy and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

St. Nicholas is the parish school attached to the Ukrainian Catholic St. Nicholas Cathedral, long a community anchor in the Ukrainian village.

St. Nicholas is the headquarters of 43 Ukrainian Catholic churches located between Chicago and Hawaii. The church comes under the administration of the Pope in Rome, but its rituals are mainly based on Orthodox tradition. The church offers daily masses in Ukrainian.

Serhiy Kovalchuk, one of the church’s priests, said his religion faces an existential threat if Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues.

“Every time the Russians came to Ukraine, they destroyed our Eastern Catholic Church. Everything in history is the same. So we know that if they come, our church will suffer the same persecution as under the Soviet regime,” he said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Serhiy Kovalchuk speaks during a student-led vigil with three Catholic schools held at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in the Ukrainian village amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 21 March 2022.

Kovalchuk said he hoped Ukraine and Russia would continue their diplomatic and peace negotiations, but Ukraine must continue to fight for its independence.

“It’s very important… to demonstrate that we are ready to speak with [the] aggressor, but we are not ready to lose our people, lose our territory and lose our freedom,” he said. “This war is not for the territory. It is for freedom.

The vigil precedes an international Catholic prayer service scheduled for Friday. Pope Francis will pronounce the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Churches in Chicago — including St. Nicholas — and around the world are participating.

St. Nicholas Cathedral School continues to collect monetary donations to fund tuition fees, counseling services and additional English lessons for its new pupils, Principal Anna Cirilli said. More information can be found here.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A student-led vigil with three Catholic schools was held at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in the Ukrainian village amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 21, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A student-led vigil with three Catholic schools was held at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in the Ukrainian village amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 21, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A student-led vigil with three Catholic schools was held at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in the Ukrainian village amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 21, 2022.

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