Papal chaplain visits newly discovered mass grave in Ukraine

ROME — Standing near a mass grave in eastern Ukraine and watching the delicate and solemn removal of bodies, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, papal chaplain, said he could only pray.

“I knew I would find so many dead, but I met men who showed the beauty that is sometimes hidden in our hearts,” Krajewski said after visiting the mass grave in the northern city of Izium. – east of the country.

“They showed human beauty in a place where there could only be revenge. Instead, there was none,” he said Vatican News in an interview published on September 19.

Russian forces fled the area after Ukraine launched a counter-offensive to regain occupied territory. In a forest near Izium, soldiers found a mass grave site with the remains of around 500 people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a video message, said investigators had seen evidence that some of the victims had been tortured.

Similar mass graves were discovered earlier this year in other areas formerly occupied by Russian forces.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Russian involvement in the atrocities and repeated accusations that mass graves were staged by Ukraine, the Reuters reports the news agency.

Krajewski, who was accompanied by Ukrainian Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia, said the careful removal of bodies to Izium felt like a solemn liturgy.

“There is one thing that touched me so much,” he said Vatican News Service. “These young Ukrainians were taking the bodies out so gently, so gently, in complete silence. It felt like a “celebration”; no one was talking but there were so many police and soldiers there – at least 200 people. All in silence, with an incredible appreciation for the mystery of death. Truly, there was so much to learn from these people.

Noting that the workers removed the bodies as if they were doing it “for their own families, for their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters,” Krajewski said he and Honcharuk could only watch and pray.

“The bishop and I walked among them. I recited the Chaplet of Divine Mercy all the time; we stayed there for at least three hours. I couldn’t do anything else,” he said.

“That’s what’s stuck with me now that I’m back in Kharkiv. I am in the chapel thinking of these young people,” he said.

In an interview with Vatican News published on September 17, Krajewski said he and several others came under fire while delivering humanitarian aid to ailing Ukrainians on behalf of Pope Francis.

The Polish cardinal was delivering goods in the city of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine with a Catholic bishop, a Protestant bishop and a Ukrainian soldier when the attack happened.

“For the first time in my life, I didn’t know where to run because just running is not enough. You have to know where to go,” the cardinal said.

The Cardinal and those accompanying him managed to evade the attack and continued to deliver loaded goods in a minibus.

The Dicastery for the Service of Charity announced on September 9 that Krajewski would embark on his fourth trip to Ukraine and visit Odessa, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv and other places in eastern Ukraine.

The purpose of his visit, the dicastery said, was to support “the different communities of the faithful, priests and religious, and their bishops, who for more than 200 days continue to remain in the places of their ministry despite the dangers of war”. ”

“It is a silent and evangelical journey to be with the people who are suffering, praying and comforting each of them, showing by their presence that they are not alone in this situation which only brings destruction and death”, indicates the press release.

Talk on the phone with Vatican NewsKrajewski noted that his visit to Ukraine coincided with the ninth anniversary of his episcopal ordination and appointment as papal chaplain.

The cardinal said he spent the day loading a minibus with provisions and rosaries blessed by the pope and delivering them to people in areas where “no one but soldiers enters anymore.”

Witnessing the devastation of war in the country on his birthday, Krajewski said Vatican News that it was a “day without mercy” in which “there are neither tears nor words”.

“We can only pray and repeat: ‘Jesus, I trust in you,'” the cardinal said.

Barry F. Howard