Veterans observances honor those who served, those still in harm’s way
By Dan McWilliams
A special guest appeared at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus for the annual Green Mass for members of the military and veterans on Nov. 13.
Bishop Aleksander Jazlowiecki, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Kyiv-Zhytomyr, Ukraine, was the principal celebrant of the Mass. Cathedral rector Father David Boettner and associate pastor Father Martin Gladysz concelebrated, and Deacon Walt Otey assisted.
The first reader was Army Sgt. and paratrooper David M. Cahill, and the second reader was Capt. Peter Kniesler, U.S. Army Reserve. Gifts were brought forward by Col. Joe Sutter, U.S. Air Force retired; former Capt. Rachel Sherburne Mohney, USAF; and Col. Tim Thurston, USAF.
Bishop Jazlowiecki spoke at the Mass of the situation in Ukraine since the Russian invasion of his country earlier in the year.
After Father Boettner introduced him as a bishop, Bishop Jazlowiecki teasingly corrected him.
“I’m an auxiliary bishop not bishop, because in the Catholic Church it is important to be precise,” he said. “Thank you very much for coming. I will celebrate this feast with you, and we will pray together for Ukraine.”
Bishop Jazlowiecki began his homily by stating two worries.
“The first fear: I’m always afraid the deacon will read another Gospel. The second fear is I will come here and not find my homily,” he said. “Fortunately, everything is starting well now.”
The Ukrainian bishop commented on the day’s Gospel reading from Luke 21.
“In today’s Gospel, Jesus said, ‘The day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earth quakes, plagues from place to place. They will put some of you to death.’ The basis of today’s Gospel, some preachers of the Word try to calculate the second coming of Christ,” Bishop Jazlowiecki said.
“Indeed it seems that Jesus is talking about the time when the end of this world will come. However, I want to draw your attention to something else. Today, Christ reminds us that nothing is certain in this world because everything passes. This is what is important for us to understand, not when exactly the end of the world will come, but knowing that everything in this world passes away quickly can change our life for the better and focus our attention on the main thing: on God,” he added.
The Ukrainian people “have already experienced that everything passes away,” Bishop Jazlowiecki said. “When this terrible war between Russia and Ukraine began, why did we experience it? Because during this war, many people lost everything that they had in their lifetime. During this war, many people in Ukraine lost members of their family and close friends. The people close to us are passing away.”
The bishop told of a Ukrainian man who met a Moscow woman online and fell in love with her before he was later called to military service.
“He fought courageously for several months defending the city of Mariupol and then disappeared,” Bishop Jazlowiecki said. “The armed forces of Ukraine defended Mariupol in a battle and were surrounded for more than 80 days. Now the city is completely destroyed by the Russians. More than 22,000 civilians died there. Fifty thousand were deported to Russia. After some time, the body of this guy was found. He died defending the city. Recently, the local bishop conducted his funeral. The Russian girl cannot return to Russia because she fears for her life and the safety of her relatives in Moscow. Fortunately, the groom’s family accepted her, and she decided to become a Catholic, and now she is preparing for her first confession and Holy Communion.”
Bishop Jazlowiecki repeated his statement about people passing away.
“Everything passes away: material things, people close to us, ourselves,” he said. “Only God does not pass away, and this is good. Pope Francis once said, ‘Only God is enough for us, and let everything else pass away.’ Indeed, when we lose everything but do not lose God, we will find everything again in Him one day. When we lose God, together with Him we lose everything forever.
“When the war began, one of my greatest fears was that our people would lose faith in God and thus lose Him. War, which brings destruction, suffering, and death, is a test for every person’s faith. Today, when the war has been going on for almost nine months, I can say that I am proud of my people in Ukraine, who have lost so much—relatives, health, homes—but they have not lost faith in God. They continue to go to the church. They are praying for a quick victory. Moreover, many of our Catholics thank God for helping us expel the Russians from our diocese and from the city of Kyiv.”
Faith in God “is the greatest treasure and the strongest help for a person,” Bishop Jazlowiecki continued. “In addition to faith, we are strengthened by the solidarity of the entire civilized world. Humanitarian aid began to arrive from all countries: food, medicine, clothing. We heard many words of support. Our army was provided with weapons sent by friendly countries like the United States. All this also gives us strength and confidence in our victory. Today, God brought me to you from Kyiv to thank you on behalf of all Ukrainians for your support. We are grateful for your continued prayers and all your help and support that many of you have given and are giving. We Ukrainians have great hope in your help. There has never been such great respect for your country in Ukraine before. Thank you very much, and may God bless you also for today’s funds that you are collecting for my Kyiv-Zhytomyr Diocese.”
The bishop then spoke on the purpose of the Green Mass.
“The Mass today is offered for all your veterans,” he said. “We honor your veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. Being here with you today made me think of all the soldiers in Ukraine who are fighting to save our country like your veterans did in the past. I ask you with all my heart to think of them and pray for them that God will help them and give them courage to fight and bring an end to this terrible war. Prayers are the best weapon for peace in the world.”
Father Boettner at the end of Mass thanked “Bishop Aleksander for being with us this weekend and assure him of our prayers and support. We were talking last night, and we said this may be your first visit to Knoxville, but we know it’s not going to be your last visit to Knoxville, so we look forward to having you back again in the future, so thank you.” A round of applause followed.
“To all of you, thank you,” Bishop Jazlowiecki said. “Father David and Father Martin, they invited me here. Thank you to all of you for your good hearts. Thank you for your bishop. … God save the United States, and God save Ukraine and all countries.”
After Father Boettner made the parish announcements, the playing and singing of the Ukrainian national anthem followed.
“Thank you very much for that. I appreciate it very much,” Bishop Jazlowiecki said.
Speaking after Mass, Bishop Jazlowiecki explained how he came to be at Sacred Heart.
“I’m so grateful to God for this possibility to come here. I was attending a conference about Ukraine in Nashville. We finished the conference Friday, and I said maybe I will go to some church and can preach about Ukraine,” he said. “I asked Father David about the possibility to come, and he was so happy. He invited me. God’s providence guides us. I’m here because of God’s will, I think.”
Conditions in Ukraine’s capital city are not good, Bishop Jazlowiecki said after Mass.
“I live in Kyiv, and in Kyiv but not only in Kyiv but in other big cities, we have a problem with electricity,” he said. “They have destroyed our electric systems. More don’t have electricity than have in different districts of the city.”
The bishop spoke of the outlook for peace in his troubled nation.
“The people who don’t believe in God, they have their hope. We who believe, our hope is in God, in prayers,” he said. “We feel this great solidarity from all Catholics, even from the United States. You pray for us. In many countries, Catholic churches have solidarity with us, and we feel that, and our hope is in God. We also have hope in our army and help from different countries.”
“Peace” is not the best word to use with his countrymen, Bishop Jazlowiecki said.
“Ukrainians don’t use the word peace. We use the word victory because we had peace with the Russians from 2014 when they started the war against us,” he said. “We tried to negotiate to do some peace with them, and they took Crimea. We tried to negotiate, and we had a peace with Russia, and they took two regions, and we tried to negotiate, and they didn’t stop. Now we speak about victory. We want victory, not peace. The peace with Russia is not so easy.”
Click here to listen to Bishop Jazowiecki’s homily given at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.