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Pope to lead consecration for Ukraine, Russia

Vatican Russia Ukraine War
Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin celebrates a mass for peace in Ukraine in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Several diplomats, including ambassadors to the Holy See from Ukraine and Russia, gathered to pray for the stop of war in Ukraine.

At the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis will lead a virtual service at St. Peter's Basilica consecrating Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese will also take part.

Dioceses throughout the world are invited to join him in what’s being called a much-needed consecration in the invasion of Ukraine. All priests and their parishes are also invited to join in.

“When we say we ‘consecrate’ someone or something, it really means that we set them aside, or set this thing aside, for a holy purpose; when we’re baptized, for instance, we’re consecrated to God — we’re set aside — kind of a new life with God,” said Bishop William Wack, who shepherds the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese’s 57 parishes.

“Bishop Bill” adds that occasionally, the Church consecrates not just people, but also a country and even the entire world.

“In this case, the bishops of Ukraine were asking if we, the Church, specifically consecrate Russia and Ukraine. ‘So God, we consecrate them to You; help us to find this peace,’” recited Wack. “That’s what we’re going to do on Friday. The Holy Father will do that, then all the bishops of the world will do that in communion with him.”

Russia is included in the consecration, in the concept of good vs. evil. Wack says it’s not just dedicating those who are on the side of the saints.

“No. We need it the most, those of us who are sinners. And Russia is obviously the aggressive actor, the force that is attacking [and] invading Ukraine,” said Wack. “This is our way of saying, ‘God, we want You to help bring them about, bring a conversion about in them.’ And so that’s why we’re including both.”

Friday’s service is not a mass. The Act of Consecration to be said by the pontiff is actually a long prayer recited in the context of a reconciliation where people are invited to come and seek forgiveness of their sins. The local observance will be at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on 12th Avenue at 11 a.m. Central time or 5 p.m. at the Vatican.

“Here, locally in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, I will be gathering people in the cathedral in Pensacola," said Wack. "We’ll be praying the Rosary and then I’ll give a little reflection on what we’re doing, they'll say that prayer in communion with the Pope.”

Friday’s consecration can be linked back to World War I. In Catholic teaching, Mary appeared to three children outside the Portuguese city of Fatima in May of 1917 at the start of the Russian revolution.

“It was reported that Mary said to one of the children that, ‘I want Russia to be converted.’ This was right around the time when communism became the force there,” Wack said. “Now that we see war happening again in Europe, it’s an opportunity for us to say, ‘We need to go back to our roots, we need to pray for the conversion of all people, but especially these countries right now.”

The Russian Orthodox hierarchy has been invited to join the Catholic Church in the consecration, but Wack concedes that for now, there’s some tension between the two denominations.

Bishop Wack 2.jpg
Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese
Bishop William Wack, leader of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Catholic Diocese

“I think some of them think, ‘Well, why are you praying for our conversion? We’re already faithful.’ But it’s not really for the church, as much as it is for the leadership,” he said. “[It’s] for President Putin and the people around him who are making these decisions. This is in no way divisive; we’re asking God’s protection through Mary, Mother of God, to bring about that consecration for all the world.”

The message that the Church wants to convey, says Wack, is that peace begins with the individual.

“It has to be more than a prayer, more than a wish; it has to start with us,” said the bishop. “In our families, in our marriages, perhaps in our communities. We really have to aspire to be people who bring peace and reconciliation to those around us. To listen to people, to understand them more [and] to be compassionate.”

Friday’s consecration, says Bishop Bill Wack, likely won’t be the last dialogue on Russia and Ukraine — and about the other ills of the world.

“In families, in schools, perhaps in churches, to gather and talk about what does it mean to want this peace? How can it start with us?” said Wack. “So I do believe that this is not just a one-time thing. I certainly hope it isn’t but it’s something that clearly fits into the theme of Lent before Easter, and even beyond then.”