Pope Francis, in a surprise announcement, has called on “all the Catholic churches in Europe” to hold a special collection on Sunday, April 24, to "alleviate the material needs” of all who are suffering “the consequences of the violence” in Ukraine where the ongoing conflict has left thousands dead and forced over a million to leave their homes.
He issued his call in St Peter’s Square at midday on April 3, after celebrating mass on Divine Mercy Sunday for tens of thousands of people from many countries and all continents, and said he hoped this gesture “may help to promote peace and respect for law without further delay in this sorely tested land.”
For a long time, he has been concerned about the dramatic situation in that country of 43 million people, where a civic revolution took place in 2013-14, followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Although a peace accord was reached in Minsk in February 2015, it has not been fully implemented.
The pope drew the world’s attention to “the consequences of the violence" and ongoing hostilities, and said “thousands” have been killed (more than nine thousand, according to some sources) and “more than a million” have had to leave their homes in “this land rocked by the hostilities,” and those who suffer most are “ the elderly and children.” Independent sources say that by mid-2015, there were some 1.4 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine.
Francis said he is “accompanying” these suffering people “with my constant thought and prayer.” He then made the surprise announcement, saying he had decided “to promote a humanitarian support in their favor.” With this goal in mind, he said “a special collection will be held in all the Catholic churches in Europe on April 24.”
He invited “the faithful” to “join this initiative of the Pope with a generous contribution” and told them that he hopes “this gesture of charity, besides relieving the material needs, can also express my personal closeness and solidarity, as well as that of the entire Church to the Ukraine.”
Earlier at mass, Francis had devoted his entire homily to the theme of mercy, reminding Christians everywhere of the call to practice “the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which are the hallmarks of the Christian life.” He clearly intended this as one such work.