Last week when I interviewed Franciscan University’s Alexander Sich for this edition’s front-page article, he had attended a very moving event earlier that day.
As you’ll read in the article, Sich is living in war-torn Ukraine with his family during this academic year while teaching at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU).
The event that Sich attended was a requiem service for a fellow UCU lecturer who was killed in February 2014 by government snipers during a wave of public demonstrations in Kiev.
Bohdan Solchanyk was one among the “Holy Hundred,” as the other civilians have been called, who was killed in the Euromaiden demonstrations.
Immediately after the requiem, Sich wrote a reflection, which was published in Crisis Magazine and later shared it with me.
Sich wrote, “I am not ashamed to admit I lost my composure – several times – crying for a martyr I had never met and for a country that has suffered repeated conquests and genocides over literally hundreds of years. The extraordinarily beautiful yet profoundly sad chanting accentuated the almost unspeakable losses endured by UCU and the country. I have never in my life felt so inadequate in the face of such suffering … .”
The martyrdom of Solchanyk and the suffering of the Ukrainian people are deeply saddening. As Sich said, and I don’t pretend to know, words can’t describe what it is like.
But Sich’s words opened my eyes to the intense, present reality of suffering in this world.
Moreover, I could see the lack of suffering and sacrifice in my own life. This realization couldn’t have come at a better time than now, during Lent.
Generally speaking, American Catholics/Christians have become weak and afraid of sacrifice. I’d be the first one to speak, since my biggest sacrifice is waking up early or biting my tongue to stop from complaining.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve been afforded many good things but have lost our sense of gratitude, as Sich mentioned in our interview. But with that, we’ve become closed in and have forgotten or ignored the sufferings of others.
In his Lenten message, Pope Francis called this problem a “globalization of indifference.” He said Christians must never withdraw into themselves but must always open their hearts to the suffering of others.
Quoting 1 Corinthians, the pope said if one member suffers, all suffer. The church is a communion of saints and we possess all things together – sufferings and joys.
Just like the people of Ukraine, we are all on a pilgrimage through this life to the heavenly kingdom. Because of that we are pilgrims together, with each other and with Christ.
Sich ended his reflection saying that Ukrainians know their sufferings will be true and fruitful only when it is done through the Cross.
“So, where is God in the face of the cruelty and suffering in Ukraine?” Sich asked. “On the Cross – suffering right there with them.”
Lent is a time of renewal, a time to regain a sense of gratitude, pick up our crosses and help others in their sufferings, too.
My appeal to you is that this Lent we remember the sufferings of all people and unite what small sacrifices we make to the sacrifices of others in union with Christ crucified.