UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Students from four Catholic schools in Chicago gathered Monday afternoon in Ukrainian Village to pray for Ukraine.
Students and teachers from St. Pius V in Pilsen, St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Nicholas of Tolentine in West Lawn packed into the gym at St. Nicholas Cathedral School, 2200 W. Rice St., for a vigil.
Led by two St. Nicholas eighth-graders, students lit candles, recited prayers for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and shouted pro-Ukraine slogans.
“We’re here to pray for peace,” student Paul Skomoroch said. “This conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not new. Ukraine is its own independent country, with its own histories, beliefs, language, culture and traditions.”
The gym was decked out in banners supporting Ukrainian independence, with slogans proclaiming “Hands Off Ukraine” and “Say No To War.”
St. Nicholas has become a hub for Ukrainian students fleeing the war since the invasion began almost a month ago. The school has enrolled 17 students from Ukraine, administrators said.
Last week, St. Nicholas asked for donations to support the new students and families arriving from Ukraine.
The school has since received an influx of clothes, school supplies, toiletries and other items. That includes about 500 boxes of donations that came in Monday morning, Assistant Principal Lisa Swytnyk said.
Swytnyk said the school is expecting more students from Ukraine in the coming weeks, but she can’t predict when they’ll arrive.
“It’s not like we know before. They just show up … here or next door at the church, and they bring them here,” Swytnyk said.
At the vigil, students prayed for the safety of Ukranian soldiers, children, clergy and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
St. Nicholas is the parish school attached to St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, long a community anchor in Ukrainian Village.
St. Nicholas is the mother seat of 43 Ukrainian Catholic churches situated between Chicago and Hawaii. The church falls under the administration of the pope in Rome, but its rituals are mostly based in the Orthodox tradition. The church offers daily masses in Ukrainian.
Serhiy Kovalchuk, one of the church’s priests, said his religion faces an existential threat if Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues.
“Every time Russians came to Ukraine, they destroyed our Eastern Catholic Church. All in history, it is the same. So we know if they come, our church will have the same persecution as it was during Soviet regime,” he said.
Kovalchuk said he hopes Ukraine and Russia will continue engaging in diplomacy and peace talks, but Ukraine needs to continue fighting for its independence.
“It’s very important … to demonstrate that we are ready to speak with [the] aggressor, but we are not ready to lose our people and to lose our territory and to lose our freedom,” he said. “This war, it’s not for territory. It’s for freedom.”
The vigil comes ahead of an international Catholic prayer service planned for Friday. Pope Francis will pronounce the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Churches in Chicago — including St. Nicholas — and around the world are participating.
St. Nicholas Cathedral School is still collecting monetary donations to support tuition payments, counseling services and additional English classes for its new students, Principal Anna Cirilli said. More information can be found here.
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