Cold War History Reminds Us of How We Can Help Ukraine: Pray
by Bishop Joseph F. Naumann
Like many others, I was very distressed watching the news reports about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
With the senseless loss of human life, with the enormous increase in human suffering and the massive destruction of infrastructure and buildings, we are reminded once again that war is never a solution and always a huge tragedy.
Even amidst the ravages of war, there are examples of astonishing heroism. The bravery of the leadership and people of Ukraine as they courageously fight to save their nation from unjust aggression has inspired the world.
There can be no moral justification for 1) invading a neighboring country without provocation; 2) the ruthless targeting of innocent non-combatants; and 3) reckless attacks on nuclear power plants putting millions of people at risk.
Russian President Putin’s ominous threats of nuclear retaliation if any nation dares to fight alongside valiant but outnumbered and underfunded Ukrainians is a prime example of international intimidation.
I applaud all genuine peace efforts. However, it is difficult to be optimistic about diplomatic success with the Russians even breaking truces for the humanitarian evacuation of non-combatants.
It seems doubtful that President Putin’s ambitions end with Ukraine. If Putin succeeds in conquering Ukraine with little consequence for himself and Russia, what will prevent Putin from systematically taking over other neighboring nations? Putin has learned that he can cripple the opposition with threats of nuclear retaliation. Humanly speaking, the situation seems impossible.
I’m old enough to remember the Cold War. I remember air raid exercises in elementary school. The Archbishop’s Residence, where I live, was built in the 1950s, complete with a bomb shelter. I’m unsure of its ability to protect against a nuclear attack, but it should be a safe haven against a Kansas tornado.
I also remember that in the mid-1950s, the Hungarian revolt was brutally crushed by the Soviet Union. I remember the massive airlift that was necessary to prevent West Berlin from being taken over by the communist regime. I remember the great anxiety caused by the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in the early 1960s.
Winston Churchill dubbed the Soviet military presence and domination of Eastern Europe as an iron curtain that kept the citizens of formerly independent nations trapped under the control of atheistic communism.
The liberation of the nations of Eastern Europe from the domination of communist Russia seemed like an impossible dream.
Throughout my childhood and well into my thirties, there was little hope that the Iron Curtain would come down anytime soon. Huge diplomatic efforts coupled with military vigilance were needed just to maintain the status quo.
At Fatima in 1917, Mary asked seers to urge Catholics everywhere to pray the Rosary for peace both within families and between nations. Mary also encouraged prayers for the conversion of Russia. Some embraced Mary’s request and prayed the Rosary fervently, but little seemed to change.
In 1978, the cardinals of the Catholic Church chose Saint John Paul II as pope. It was a shock that a non-Italian was elected, let alone a Polish cardinal who had spent his entire ordained ministry behind the Iron Curtain and under religious persecution.
In early June 1979, Pope John Paul II made a historic nine-day pastoral visit to his native Poland. Newt and Callista Gingrich produced a 2010 documentary about John Paul’s pastoral visit to his native country titled “Nine Days That Changed the World.”
During his pastoral visit, Pope John Paul reminded the Polish people of their Christian history and tried to restore their Polish identity.
The pope celebrated a mass in Victory Square in Warsaw. During his homily, the huge crowd began to chant spontaneously: “We want God! It was an astonishing expression of courage and heroism on the part of the Polish people. It was an example of a peaceful challenge to an atheist Soviet puppet government.
Pope John Paul’s visit to Poland marked the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain. Ten years later, the Berlin Wall was torn down and within a short time, Eastern European countries like Ukraine gained their independence.
What is most amazing is that all of this was achieved without violence. It was one of the great miracles of modern history.
Of course, many other important factors impacted the peaceful end of the Cold War. Polish workers launched the Solidarity trade union movement which, among other things, denounced the Communists’ failure to help workers.
President Ronald Regan and a range of effective European leaders were instrumental in ending the subservience of so many nations to the Soviet Union.
How does remembering this recent history, as the world holds its breath with fear of the possibility of World War III, help us discern the best way forward in 2022?
It reminds us that we must pray. Specifically, we must pray the Rosary for peace in our families and in our world.
We were created to have fellowship with God. In our increasingly secularized culture, we must witness, like the Polish people in Victory Square in June 1979, that we want God. Our own priorities should reflect the fact that we put God first in our lives. We must be willing to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to enable us to end the madness of war.
Saint John Paul, during his pastoral visit to Saint Louis in 1999, said: “If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace the truth. This formula for peace is as true today as it was in 1999.
We must pray fervently for peace and specifically ask Our Lord to raise up the right constellation of leaders who will help us find the path to a just and lasting peace – not only in Ukraine, but throughout the world.
Let me close with another quote from St. John Paul that is appropriate for our times: “I beg of you — never, never give up hope, never doubt, never get weary and never become discouraged. Do not be afraid.”