Husband and wife, Edward and Amparo Garcia, with sons, Eddie and Sebastian Garcia, and Diana Samarelli with daughters, Valentine and Mia Samarelli, hold candles during a prayer service for Ukraine held during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Catherine of Siena Church, Farmingdale.  Courtesy photo
Husband and wife, Edward and Amparo Garcia, with sons, Eddie and Sebastian Garcia, and Diana Samarelli with daughters, Valentine and Mia Samarelli, hold candles during a prayer service for Ukraine held during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Catherine of Siena Church, Farmingdale. Courtesy photo
In the hours after Russia initiated an attack on Ukraine, as airstrikes leveled buildings and civilian deaths mounted, U.S. media shared an image of young Ukrainian children praying for their safety and that of their country. It was the kind of image that would be repeated millions of times after the late February attacks as the world was moved to compassion and prayer on behalf of the innocent Ukrainian people.

Here, in the Diocese of Trenton, more than 5,000 miles away, children also prayed for peace in the Ukraine from their religious education classrooms in St. Michael Parish, Long Branch.

The same was true in Asbury Park’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. “We know that God listens to the prayers of little children,” said Theresa Craig, principal.  That was the motivation for her students’ display of love for the Ukrainian people on Ash Wednesday, gathering in the shape of a heart on the church steps while holding up brightly colored sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine.

Their prayers are added to those throughout the Diocese as stunned and heartbroken Catholics seek ways to show their love and support for their brothers and sisters in the Ukraine, as well as the more than 73,000 Ukrainian-Americans living in New Jersey. Parishes and other communities have posted visible signs of support through signs, banners, flags and shrines, while giving parishioners ample opportunities to lend support through prayer services, recitation of the Rosary, Mass petitions and Eucharistic Adoration. Collections of needed goods and funds are also being taken in many parishes, in addition to collection for the Church in Eastern Europe that was taken on Ash Wednesday.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., sent a letter of support and concern to Most Reverend Borys Gudziak, Archbishop, Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, as well as added his signature to a joint letter to Archbishop Gudziak from the seven Catholic Bishops in New Jersey. The letter was sent by the New Jersey Catholic Conference. (The letters appear on page 16.)

During the Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Bishop O’Connell shared the request of Pope Francis to recognize the day as one of prayer and fasting for peace in the Ukraine.  The Bishop offered prayers for an end to the violence, a call taken up by parishes and the faithful throughout the Diocese.

In St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Farmingdale, during a prayer service for the Ukrainian people that was part of the Ash Wednesday Mass, tearful parishioners were moved by the homily and prayers. The response has led to both a monetary and physical collection of goods to support the Ukrainian community through the parish Social Concerns Commission.

Father Yuriy Oros, a Byzantine Catholic priest of the Eparchy of Passaic, born in Ukraine, and administrator of Assumption of the Virgin Mary Byzantine Catholic Church, Trenton, is scheduled to preach the homily for the 5 p.m. Vigil Mass in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, March 12.

Father Dave Baratelli, a bi-ritual priest who serves in St. George Byzantine Catholic Church, Newark, and assists in St. Rose Parish, made the arrangements, and explained that Father Oros will share insight about Ukrainian history and what the current conflict could mean for the Catholic Church in Ukraine.

In St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, a shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been created to focus prayers for the Ukrainian people. Icons of this image are especially meaningful for Ukrainian Catholics who see icons as windows to heaven. Petitions for Ukraine and world peace are also being offered at each Mass.

St. Mary Parish, Middletown, is using email, social media and pulpit announcements to encourage parishioners to visit the Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel and pray for the people of Ukraine and an end to the war. The parish put the needs of the Ukrainian people front and center, when they placed an image of a elderly woman praying for peace on the cover of their church bulletin.

St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, will remember the Ukrainian people with a Hail Mary to Our Lady of Victory and the Divine Mercy Chaplet before Mass. The parish’s sense of solidarity with those affected by the Russian-led aggression is displayed on the large sign outside the church.

St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River, is holding Eucharistic Adoration and recitation of the Rosary for Peace, as well as a collection for Ukraine.

 Also at St. Michael’s, where a Ukrainian flag flies from the parish’s outdoor flagpole on Fridays in Lent and on Sundays, three sanctuary candles were dedicated last week to peace in Ukraine. As in many parishes, a special prayer for peace was offered at Ash Wednesday Masses, and a petition for the Ukrainian people and their nation was included as part of the Prayers of the Faithful at all weekend Masses.

In St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton, Father Jacek Labinski, pastor, said that a special collection will be taken up and Masses will be celebrated for the intentions of the people in Ukraine March 12-13. He noted that the Polish and Ukrainian flags will be hung in the church and parishioners will have an opportunity to pray before a painted image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, patron of Poland. The image will be brought to St. Hedwig Church during the week by Father Karol Jarzabek, a Pauline priest and pastor of St. Stanislaus Church in Manhattan, the oldest Polish parish in New York. Father Labinski added that after each Mass, the parish recites “A Gift of Peace,” a prayer written by Pope John Paul II.

According to Father Leandro Dela Cruz, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, the Ukraine is being remembered in prayer in various ways -- during all weekend Masses in Lent; during the Stations of the Cross, which are prayed each Friday at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and during Taizé Prayer. He noted that the parish held a second collection “to alleviate the suffering of our Ukrainian brethren and will continue to support financially by placing ‘Sacrificial Cans’ by the church doors and welcome desk starting March 12-13. Parishioners can place their weekly sacrificial savings from their fast, abstinence and other mortification like sweets, smoking, alcohol, etc.,” he said, noting that Sacrificial Cans will be available until Easter and the collective contributions will be sent via Catholic Caritas Ukraine.

In light of the continuing conflict, prayerful support is essential, said Father Baratelli, for a people who are “still scarred from previous conflicts not so easily forgotten. They have good reason to be fearful. We might ask ourselves, ‘What would I do?’ if this were happening where we live. It is a reminder of how precious the gift of freedom is.”

For extended reporting on local support for Ukraine, visit trentonmonitor.com and click on NEWS>PARISHES.