“Pray for Peace”—Ukrainian Priest Emphasizes Hope in Dark Days |
AUBURN — The Reverend Vasile Colopelnic has a sobering assignment this weekend: preaching a message of hope to his parishioners at Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in this Cayuga County town.
The invasion of his homeland by Russian forces on February 24 and the ensuing war – with its devastating toll of physical destruction and civilian and military casualties – are of concern to all citizens of the world, not just those with ties with Ukraine. Colopelnic describes the war as “an extremely difficult and challenging situation for all mankind and for all freedom-loving peoples in the world”.
But, despite the heavy weight of reality, Colopelnic says he need look no further than the Gospels for his Easter Sunday message of hope.
“Christianity is about hope and love,” he said Thursday. “We believe good will prevail.”
This sense of hope is embodied in the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Colopelnic noted how the apostles lost their hope after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, but were brought back to hope by the resurrected Jesus.
What also gives Colopelnic hope these days is the rallying of the world to support Ukraine – locally and globally.
“It’s a good sign that the world is united around Ukraine,” he said, noting that his people are fighting for rights that transcend their borders, such as freedom of expression, worship and the respect of all.
The priest, who has pastored the church in Auburn since 2012, said he was deeply touched, grateful and impressed by the generosity of his neighbors and the American population as a whole. He said people wrote him notes of encouragement, saying they were praying for the Ukrainian people. They also offer monetary donations and direct help, and he said the mayor of Auburn has been in contact to prepare the city for the possible arrival of refugees. (Ss. Peter and Paul was founded in 1901 and was a center for different waves of Ukrainians who first came to Auburn in the late 1800s, then again after World War II and in 1991 after the fall of communism, said Colopelnic).
Colopelnic was born in a Romanian village 400 meters from the Ukrainian border. Due to the shifting of borders after World War II, this village of around 3,500 ethnic Ukrainians is in Romania.
He began studying for the priesthood in 1990 in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine that has become a main destination for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the center and east of the country, where fighting has been fierce.
Although Colopelnic continued his studies in Rome for seven years and then emigrated to the United States to begin serving in churches in Northeastern and Upstate New York, he returned home each year with his wife and two children (now both Syracuse University students) before Covid-19. And, he has many connections with priest brothers still in Ukraine.
Thanks to these links, Colopelnic was able to send the donations his church receives to the places in Ukraine where they are most needed. He said many churches essentially act as field hospitals and aid centers, feeding and clothing people and tending to their wounds.
“I’m mostly trying to meet these very urgent needs that are there,” he said.
In terms of needs here, Colopelnic focuses on letting people know the church is there, open and a place of comfort. Ss. Peter and Paul held 6 p.m. prayer services on Tuesdays and Thursdays for peace in Ukraine, and the services were well attended — not only by parishioners, Colopelnic said, but by others of different faiths. and communities, including two men from Geneva.
“It’s heartwarming to see (people) come and pray for peace,” he said. “You see how our common humanity brings us together in times of need.”
For Colopelnic, the most difficult thing to accept so far is the brutality caused by the departure of Russian troops.
“We saw what happened in all those towns and villages when the Russians left,” he said. “You see what kind of tragedies happened there.”
But Jesus’ instruction to “love your enemy” appears as a guiding principle.
“We need to love because we believe goodness is greater than evil,” said Colopelnic, who sees the goodness in everyone in Cayuga County and beyond who “suffers with us together.”
“It’s so important to live with hope,” he added. “It’s so important that we are together.”