Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, at a liturgy during his visit to Kharkiv Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, at a liturgy during his visit to Kharkiv 

Nuncio to Ukraine: Light of Jesus shines even in war

Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, speaks with Vatican News about celebrating Christmas even as bombs are falling.

By Svitlana Dukhovych and Christopher Wells

“Even at Christmas time, the war has not gone away. The war continues,” says Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Holy See’s Apostolic Nuncio, in an interview with Vatican News.

Ukraine is spending its second Christmas under the spectre of war, with the tragic conflict showing no signs of abating almost two years on from the full-scale invasion of the country by Russia.

Russia has stepped up its winter bombardment of urban areas, with Ukraine’s two largest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv, coming under massive attack on the second day of the new year. Ukrainian officials said at least five people were killed and scores more wounded in the attacks.

Ukrainians were not spared even on Christmas Day, with Archbishop Kulbokas noting air alerts and bombs falling even during the Christmas liturgies.

“But in this sense,” he adds, “Christmas stands out even more, because the light of Jesus shines in the darkness, shines in the difficulties.” While noting that no one in the city has been exempt from the terror, the Nuncio explains that the meaning of Christmas nonetheless becomes clearer: “As Jesus says, ‘Do not seek peace in the world, because the world can’t give it to you. So seek peace in my arms.’”

Visit to Kharkiv

The Lithuanian prelate spent Christmas Day in Kharkiv, where he says he went “in order to pray better” and to be with those who are suffering. Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, is one of the hardest-hit places in the country.

Archbishop Kulbokas says his visit helped him see “the deepest meaning” of Christmas when he was able to pray together with the faithful in the Cathedral. “Celebrating Christmas with them is the most profound experience there can be,” he said. “And this is exactly what I was looking for, to pray with those who live Christmas seriously.”

He notes that even in the most tragic circumstances, Christmas remains joyful “because Jesus, our Redeemer, is born: but this joy is combined with great seriousness.”

The importance of ‘presence’

In his interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Kulbokas explains the importance of being present with those who suffer. This help “is important in three aspects,” he says: The spiritual aspect: “that is, prayer, the prayer of the whole world”; the humanitarian aspect; and the psychological aspect.

The third is especially important, he says, so that people know that they are not alone. By visiting those in war zones, people can understand from experience the risks of war.

The Nuncio warned of the danger that war might fade from the headlines and the public imagination “because it is always so far away from so many people.” He continues, “Instead, this physical, personal closeness” at least offers some consolation.

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04 January 2024, 15:19