BYZANTINE CATHOLIC EPARCHY OF PASSAIC
Office of the Bishop
455 Lackawanna Avenue
Woodland Park, New Jersey 07424
February 26, 2022
Glory to Jesus Christ!
My dear friends in the Faith,
As everyone else, I am horrified and sorrowful about the brutal invasion of the Ukrainian nation. It is horrible for everyone, but it brings back recent memories in our own Church, even in modern times. The part of Ukraine where our church is located was annexed to the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two, and the destruction of our church was swift and ruthless. Our bishop in Uzhorod was murdered. The priests were told to convert or suffer the consequences. About half of the priests joined the Russian Orthodox Church, and about half refused. Who can condemn those who joined? They had wives and children to care for. But the priests who remained Catholic received long prison terms in Siberia, including the fathers and grandfathers of priests in our own Eparchy of Passaic today. Russia has been waging a propaganda war against us for decades now. I experienced it myself in Florida where I attended a party with Russians, and a simple man who watches Russian television began screaming “fascist” when he found out I was Byzantine Catholic. He ran to the others side of the ball room in terror and screamed fascist over and over while pointing to me. I don’t pretend that I suffered persecution, but I tell you this story so you can see how thoroughly the Kremlin propaganda machine operates twenty four hours a day seven days a week. Our Church was relegalized only thirty years ago in Ukraine. We can be sure that religious persecution will be inevitable during a Russian occupation.
In Romania, the soviets told the youngest Greek Catholic bishop they would make him the head of the church in Romania if he renounced the Catholic faith, and he refused. They cut him up with an ax while he was still alive. Our bishops in Slovakia suffered a living martyrdom for many years. Of course, not only were monks and nuns killed, but everyone lived a life of fear and poverty. Family members reported each other to the secret police, and people who attended church were denied all government jobs and many other jobs as well. Bishop Milan Lach’s father walked away from an excellent position and lived a life of agrarian hard labor because he refused to deny his faith in Slovakia. Both Milan and his brother Peter became priests because of the faith of their saintly father.
In the 1930’s, the soviets carried out a massive genocide in Ukraine which is finally receiving international attention.
I love Russia and my many dear Russian friends, yet I do not have any illusions about what an occupation is like under the current government in the Kremlin.
What can we do to help immediately with the situation in Ukraine? The most important thing to do is repent and pray. Go to confession. Fast this Lent. Ask God for mercy.
When Pope St. John Paul the Second visited Ukraine he prayed, placing the Ukrainian people under the protection of the Holy Virgin. I am attaching that prayer to the end of this letter, and your priest may include it in the prayers after the Gospel today and in the future.
In his Epistle, St. James says,
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, ‘Go in peace. Stay warm and well fed, ‘ but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So faith without works is dead.” James 2:17-18.
How can we help with the physical needs? With the consent of the consultors, I have already sent 50,000 euro (about $57,000.00) from our Bishop Appeal to the bishop in Uzhorod. I spoke to him on the phone today. He and the priests are preparing for refugees, buying food, medicine, and sleeping bags, and so on. They are preparing our seminary there as a refugee center as well. I am sending additional money that some parishes are offering.
In addition, our Metropolitan Archbishop William Skurla has asked that we take a collection on the third Sunday of Lent. That money will be sent to our Church there to care for refugees, and indeed all of the people there who will suffer soon from the destruction of the society by war.
While we do what we can here, it doesn’t seem like enough. However, the people there have asked us to pray, and they say that our prayers and support mean so very much to them.
In humility and with prostrations we cry out, through the prayers of the Mother of God, O Christ our True God have mercy on us!
Bishop Kurt Burnette
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Zarvaniza,
I thank you for the gift of my visit to the Kyivan Rus’
from where the light of the Gospel spread through this whole region.
Here before your miraculous icon,
kept in this church of Saint Nicholas,
I entrust to you, Mother of God and Mother of the Church,
my apostolic journey to Ukraine.
Holy Mother of God,
spread your maternal mantle over all Christians
and over all people of good will
who live in this great nation.
Lead them to your Son, Jesus,
who is for everyone the way, the truth and the life.