Cardinal Vincent Nichols, praying at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in central London
A day of prayer for peace in Ukraine took place across Europe yesterday on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is particularly celebrated in the Eastern Church. The Catholic Church stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters impacted by the war in Ukraine.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols has preached at the 6:15pm Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in central London.
Speaking to the gathered worshippers, Cardinal Nichols gave a beautiful meditation on the Cross – a symbol of suffering, sorrow, and, ultimately, redemption.
“Our Lord knows what it is to suffer. We pray that He will offer consolation and strength to those who have lost so much; we pray for the aggressors; we pray, as Pope Francis invites us, that each person will ‘be a builder of peace, and that thoughts and plans of concord and reconciliation will be spread in the world.’”
Quoting the Byzantine Saint Theodore the Studite, who said “Whoever loves the Cross falls in love with Christ,” Cardinal Nichols said:
“As we contemplate the wondrous Cross, we pray that we may be filled afresh with love. We pray that the saving love of Christ may convert the hearts of those who inflict suffering, showing them that the way of reconciliation, not violence, is the better path to tread. And we pray, most earnestly, that the love that Christ showed on the Cross, ‘so amazing, so divine’, may sustain the Ukrainian people, that their peace, so cruelly shattered, may be restored and the burden of their cross of suffering lightened.”
It is an honour for me to address you on this day of prayer for peace in Ukraine. It is particularly fitting that I do so in your beautiful Cathedral. Here, the eye is drawn, inevitably, to the iconostasis, emphasising the holiness of the Divine Liturgy, and encouraging the worshipper to raise mind and heart to God.
In my own Cathedral, those who visit cannot fail to be struck by the great hanging crucifix which dominates the nave. On this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, it is a good focus for reflection. When Pope Benedict visited Westminster Cathedral in 2010, he spoke of this crucifix, “which portrays Christ’s body, crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow, the innocent victim whose death has reconciled us with the Father and given us a share in the very life of God.”
Those few words introduce themes of such importance for us today. The suffering that has been inflicted on the people of Ukraine is crushing indeed. “Now more than ever,” the Ukrainian bishops have said, “we understand Jesus Christ on His Way of the Cross, we understand his suffering and death as an innocent Lamb who was crucified by people who gave themselves in the service of evil.” As people of faith in that innocent Lamb, who is truly God even in the midst of his Passion, today is a day to recommit ourselves in prayer for the people of Ukraine. Our Lord knows what it is to suffer. We pray that He will offer consolation and strength to those who have lost so much; we pray for the aggressors; we pray, as Pope Francis invites us, that each person will “be a builder of peace, and that thoughts and plans of concord and reconciliation will be spread in the world.” Such prayer, St Paul reminds us in today’s reading, “is right, and will please God our saviour.”
One of the greatest of English hymns is ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’. It is sung each Good Friday in Westminster Cathedral. One of the verses begins, ‘See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.’ In the mystery of the Cross, love and sorrow are as inseparable as the water and blood that flowed from His side. Truly, Christ is the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. We turn to him in our sorrow, but we do so confident that sorrow can never wholly eclipse the love of Christ. His willingness to die as an innocent victim, to take away the sins of the world, is for us our consolation, and our great hope. Our prayer today is that this hope – which is not deceptive – may sustain our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, and may touch the hearts of those who cause them such pain. No-one is beyond the redemption won for us by Christ on the Cross.
St Paul tells us that our prayer should include ‘petition, intercession, and thanksgiving’. Today I would highlight two things for which, even in these troubled times, we should be thankful. The first is the generosity of so many who have opened their wallets, their homes, and their hearts, to those displaced from Ukraine by the war. Such generosity is an eloquent witness to the goodness of God at work in this country, across Europe and beyond.
And, on a note that is different yet so important at this time, our hearts are full of thankfulness for the gift of the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Her joy in life, her kindness, her faithfulness have been such an example to us all. Tonight I think particularly of her steadfastness in adversity, and all that this can teach us. Indeed it is this steadfastness, stretching back to the days when our own country was at war, that is so central to the respect and affection in which she is held. Now, her work completed, may she rest in peace. And we assure His Majesty King Charles of our prayers for him, as he takes up his new office, and for his family as they mourn.
In the Eastern calendars, today’s feast is often known as ‘The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross’. The reconciliation won on the Cross, the share in the life of God, is open not only to a select group of humanity. It is universal: it is offered to every human being, without exception. The Cross is precious to us: precious as the place where innocence and suffering, love and sorrow were so intertwined for our good, and the good of the world. And it is life-giving: it is the Tree of Life, offering us the fruits of salvation.
‘Whoever loves the Cross falls in love with Christ.’ (St Theodorus the Estudite, Oratio 2 in adorationem Crucis). As we contemplate the wondrous Cross, we pray that we may be filled afresh with love. We pray that the saving love of Christ may convert the hearts of those who inflict suffering, showing them that the way of reconciliation, not violence, is the better path to tread. And we pray, most earnestly, that the love that Christ showed on the Cross, ‘so amazing, so divine’, may sustain the Ukrainian people, that their peace, so cruelly shattered, may be restored and the burden of their cross of suffering lightened.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster