The aftermath of the Russian occupation of Bucha, Ukraine. | Private archive.
European church leaders appealed this week to the presidents of Russia and Ukraine to observe an Easter ceasefire.
The letter dated April 11 urged Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to declare a halt to fighting from midnight on April 17 until April 24.
The letter was signed by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), and the Rev. Christian Krieger, president of the Conference of European Churches (CEC).
They said that they were echoing a call by Pope Francis on Palm Sunday for an Easter truce in Ukraine.
“In 2022, Easter, as fixed by the Gregorian calendar, is on Sunday, April 17 in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, as fixed by the Julian calendar, it comes on Sunday, April 24,” the two church leaders wrote.
“We would ask for a general ceasefire in the conflict between your two countries so as to give Christians in Russia and Ukraine, sisters and brothers in Christ, the opportunity to celebrate Easter in peace and dignity.”
“Such a truce would also be of benefit to all the citizens of both your countries, giving them a respite from the worrying uncertainty about the lives of their loved ones who are either fighting in the conflicts or affected by them.”
Hollerich and Krieger also wrote to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, informing him of their appeal.
“In doing so you could demonstrate how much importance you attach to giving Christians in Russia and in Ukraine, sisters and brothers in Christ, the necessary respite to enable them to celebrate Easter in peace and dignity,” they wrote.
COMECE, based in Brussels, Belgium, brings together the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the 27 member states of the European Union.
The CEC, which has offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, France, represents 114 churches from Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican traditions in Europe.
Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The U.N. human rights office has recorded 4,450 civilian casualties — 1,892 killed and 2,558 injured — as of April 12, but says that the true figures are likely to be “considerably higher.”
Discussions between representatives of Russia and Ukraine have so far failed to lead to a ceasefire. Vladimir Putin said on April 12 that peace talks were at a “dead end.”
Russian forces are reportedly massing in eastern Ukraine in preparation for a renewed offensive aimed at securing control of the Donbas region.