Locals filled the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in North Melbourne on Wednesday night for a special liturgical service (“moleben”) to Our Lady Mother of God. The one-hour liturgy for peace and unity in Ukraine was led by Bishop Mykola Bychok CSsR, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.

Bishop Mykola was joined by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Most Rev. Peter A Comensoli, as well as Bishop Shane MacKinlay (Diocese of Sandhurst), Bishop Gregory Bennet (Diocese of Sale), Bishop Terry Curtin (Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne), Bishop Martin Ashe (Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne), Bishop Bosco Puthur (Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy in Australia) and Bishop Emeritus Hilton Deakin.

Bishop Terry Curtin delivered the homily, during which he recounted the hospitality and faith of the Ukrainian people during a visit to the European country.

‘I stand before you as a Roman Catholic bishop who in 2015 was given the grace of visiting Ukraine and greeting the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops who were about to gather in synod. Memories remain of churches of vibrant beauty, of liturgies sung with living faith, of warm welcome and hospitality, of intricate needlework and wonderfully decorated eggs (!); and also of that other story that had to be told, where Christian faith gave witness as lives were lost and society destroyed under great oppression and persecution.

I must admit that in this moment of terrible trial for Ukraine I am hesitant to speak. In Australia we live our lives in relative tranquillity and safety, so what do we know? But our faith calls us forward and we stand together.

‘In our gospel, Jesus challenges us to be strong in faith, to persevere in prayer, and to forgive, that we in turn might be forgiven by our heavenly Father.

‘Wherever Christians have found themselves having to endure patiently either the daily cares of human life or the humiliation and persecution brought on by their witnessing to the Gospel, they learned to read their experience in terms of the experience of Christ. We too are being formed anew through the mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising.’

Bishop Curtin also reflected on the Greek Catholic practice of making the sign of the cross several times throughout the liturgy, calling it a sign of ‘our family likeness’.

‘It is the sign which begins and ends Christian life, the sign with which we mark ourselves at the beginning and conclusion of every prayer. The sign of the cross becomes our great act of faith by which we say to God, “Let the sign of your Son’s life be traced across mine, that you might see and love in me the same things you see and love in Christ.”

‘Jesus calls us to forgive, to pass on the very same forgiveness that our Father in heaven has shown us. Gospel forgiveness is special because it’s an act of mercy, of love. It is to wish well towards someone who finds themselves in evil, and is shown towards enemies as well as friends. It does not mean to forget, or to let go, or to excuse. Instead, it is to make visible the mercy of God. It has no limits because the measure of our forgiveness is the Father’s love, and not our own.

Our forgiving can bring pardon to others and change the world in which we live. In this way evil summons forth a greater, a redemptive love. Under God’s grace may that love now flourish in Ukraine, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

Towards the end of the liturgy, Bishop Mykola thanked the community gathered in person and online, and the various civic and multifaith leaders in attendance. This included Vivian Nguyen AM, Chairperson of the Victorian Multifaith Commission, who expressed her solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

‘As a fellow Australian, a fellow Victorian, a former refugee and, importantly, a Roman Catholic, my heart is flooded with emotions. The Victorian Multicultural Commission is with you, the Ukrainian people here and overseas. We are with you every step of the way.’

We just want peace,’ concluded Bishop Mykola. ‘What can we do? We can pray. Pray for unity ... Trust in God. Thank you all so much for your prayers and support for Ukraine.’