Rhode Island priest steps up to show solidarity with Ukraine – Arkansas Catholic
Father O’Neill’s cycling pilgrimage offered prayers for peace in war-torn region
CNS Photo/Rick Snizek, Rhode Island Catholic
Father Thomas O’Neill leaves St. Mary of the Bay Church in Warren, RI after offering prayers for Ukraine on January 28, 2022.
As Ukraine faces a fierce challenge to its fledgling democracy from more than 120,000 Russian forces stacked on its borders, ready to invade at any moment, a Rhode Island priest shows solidarity with the plight of the people of the predominantly Orthodox Christian nation.
“Russia surrounds Ukraine with troops. What can I do but pray?” said Father Thomas O’Neill, 79, senior priest of the Diocese of Providence.
Father O’Neill embarked on a prayer pilgrimage one morning when the mercury hovered at 15 degrees as he cycled from his home in Middletown to St. Patrick’s Church in Providence in late January.
He stopped at churches along the way to offer prayers for peace in the region.
“If you read ‘The Church in the Modern World’ or any of the documents that the Catholic Church has produced on social justice, you will see that what Putin is doing is not just the opposite, it is the opposite extreme.”
A savvy history student, who spent 20 years of his ministry serving outside the United States, Father O’Neill fears what will happen to the people of Ukraine if Russian President Vladimir Putin leads the vast array of forces he has. amassed on three sides of Europe’s second largest nation by area to invade Ukraine.
During a stop at St. Mary of the Bay Church in Warren, Father O’Neill recounted how under Soviet leader Josef Stalin millions of Ukrainians starved to death.
The brutal dictator caused a famine by ordering small Ukrainian farms to operate as a collective, usurping their crops to feed those living in Russia. Stalin’s aim was also to punish Ukrainians whose dreams of independence would threaten his total rule.
“During the Stalin era they starved to death because they took all the food out of Ukraine that was grown on the collective farms and the peasants are all starving, millions and millions of them. Why? would Ukraine want to have anything to do with Russia now?” asked the priest.
“They have many reasons for not wanting to be tied to Russia,” he added in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper in Providence.
Ukraine gained independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing dissolution of the former Soviet Union. It has been functioning as a democracy ever since.
In recent weeks, Putin has deployed tens of thousands of well-armed troops to Ukraine’s borders, threatening the Eastern European nation of 41 million as he publicly lamented his desire to join the NATO western security alliance.
“Putin has cut his teeth on the KBG. All he knows how to do is smile, be friendly, lie, murder and torture,” Father O’Neill said of the Russian leader who has for objective of continuing to regain lost ground in Ukraine. .
In February 2014, during the Winter Olympics, held in Sochi, southern Russia, Putin invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after the national parliament overthrew its pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovych. Since then they have held this piece of Ukraine.
Father O’Neill said he was stunned to see some American TV hosts arguing that the United States should support Russia over Ukraine on this issue given that Russia has more to offer that country, given its resources, than Ukraine.
He expresses his solidarity with the Ukrainian people, noting that it is not only about geopolitics at work, but also about Catholic social teaching.
“It’s a question of democracy, it’s a question of citizenship,” he said.
“If you read ‘The Church in the Modern World’ or any of the documents that the Catholic Church has produced on social justice, you will see that what Putin is doing is not just the opposite, it is the opposite extreme,” the priest said. noted.
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (“Gaudium et Spes”), published in 1965, is one of the four constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council.
As morning sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows of St. Mary of the Bay Church, Father O’Neill offered prayers for the Ukrainian people before heading back into the biting cold to board the old bicycle of Raleigh mountain which would take him the remaining 14 miles or so to St. Patrick’s Church in Providence.
The bike was given to him by a former parishioner when he was pastor of St. Mary’s Church in West Warwick, until he retired nine years ago.
Father O’Neill didn’t have a tire repair kit or other tools with him if the bike broke down, so he embarked on this pilgrimage with faith that God would help him complete it.
“A pilgrimage is meant to help the person making the pilgrimage – it’s meant to transform me,” he said as he left.
“But on the other hand, I think the situation is such that I would appreciate it if people were a little more interested in it,” he added. “If the Russians invade, it’s going to be horrible and ugly. But I know the Ukrainians will fight hard.”
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