The Catholic Union spoke to Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski recently about his role in supporting the Ukrainian Catholic population of Great Britain and Ireland.
Bishop Nowakowski was appointed Apostolic Eparch in January 2020, before the pandemic and before the full scale invasion of Ukraine. He is based at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile in London, where a Welcome Centre has been set up to support refugees from the conflict in Ukraine.
Speaking to the Catholic Union, Bishop Nowakowski encouraged people in this country to pray, fast and give alms to support people in Ukraine during “this great fast of Lent”. He also urged Catholics to be “peacemakers” in their own homes and communities.
In his interview with Catholic Union Deputy Director, James Somerville-Meikle, Bishop Nowakowski said it was hard to believe the news that Russia had launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, saying he thought that “somebody had sent me a joke.”
Since then, some 170,000 Ukrainians have come to the UK seeking refuge from the conflict. The Ukrainian Catholic Church in this country has been a source of support to many with three or four new parishes being established around London alone and many more across the country.
Bishop Nowakowski was born and brought up in Canada, but was sent as a young priest to help re-establish the Church’s administrative structures in Ukraine under the ‘perestroika’ reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and the subsequent collapse of the USSR.
He has been back to Ukraine three times this past year and each visit left him “heartbroken”. He recalls speaking to a young doctor in a children’s hospital who had to take premature babies out of incubators and move them to a makeshift bomb shelter in the basement every time the air raid sirens sounded.
Bishop Nowakowski said that “a clear victory for Ukraine would mean the downfall of the leadership of the Kremlin” and “this would also be the liberation of the Russian people.” We need to acknowledge how many people have died on both sides, he said.
He said the response from people in this country since the invasion was “remarkable”. Asked about what role Catholics should play, he said: “The response of the Church in all of this is to provide hope and to work at healing wounds of this war – physical, spiritual and psychological.” He acknowledged that “this going to affect people for generations”.
James Somerville-Meikle, Deputy Director of the Catholic Union, comments: “In a year where there has been so much darkness for the people of Ukraine, the Church has been helping to provide much needed hope and practical support. Looking around the Cathedral and Welcome Centre, it was clear that the Ukrainian Catholic Church has become a focal point for efforts to support Ukrainian refugees. This is by no means confined to the Cathedral, but in parishes across the country. Bishop Kenneth’s role as shepherd of the flock has taken on a new and deeper meaning since the full scale invasion began just over a year ago. It was a pleasure to sit down with him to discuss the Church’s response to the conflict and what we can all do to help.”
The full interview with Bishop Kenneth and James Somerville-Meikle can be listened to on YouTube here: