Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo’s Reflections on a Fourth Solidarity Visit to Ukraine

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo's Fourth Solidarity Visit to Ukraine
Newly created section of the Lviv cemetery dedicated to the fallen Ukrainian soldiers. ©ICMC

On Friday, March 22, 2024, I began my 4th Solidarity visit to the suffering people of Ukraine who have sustained constant bombardments and countless deaths, injuries and destruction of homes, property, and future since 2014 and this has only worsened since the full scale invasion of Feb 2022.

I arrived in Krakow on Friday afternoon and then yesterday traveled to Lviv – after a many-hour wait for our car to pass the border to Ukraine. One striking image in downtown Lviv was 2 soldiers both severely wounded – one with a hand prosthesis and the other with his arm in a sling.

This morning, I concelebrated the Latin Mass in the local Cathedral. Since it was Palm Sunday, we recalled Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, fully knowing that he soon be facing death to free our world from sin, evil, and perpetual death.

This morning, I concelebrated the Holy Mass, in Latin, at the local Cathedral – since it was Palm Sunday, we recalled Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, fully knowing that he soon would be facing death to free our world from sin, evil, and perpetual death.

After Mass, we visited the local cemetery in Lviv, where they have developed a new section for the fallen military – 572 graves of mostly young women and men. How many of them knew they too were going to their death in efforts to preserve freedom for Ukrainian people and culture?

How many wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers are grieving today?  Many arrived carrying flowers and willow branches, signing themselves with the cross of Jesus – the instrument of His death! How many have lost hope because of their overwhelming grief and loss? 

On so many graves, in addition to the usual yellow and blue official Ukrainian flag, another flag of red and black is added – many Ukrainians have told me that, when Ukrainian blood soaks the traditional flag, it becomes red and black. Another tragic effect of war.

Standing before such a sad display of lost life and future, I could only add my humble prayer, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual shine upon them.”

ICMC Secretary General, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, paying his respect to the soldiers who have lost their lives defending their homeland. ©ICMC

Last evening, we met with Father Yuriy, a psychologist and Director of the Greek Catholic Mental Health Hub in Ukraine, and his colleagues – young women who are provided education on mental health as well as psychological treatment. In all, this hub is supporting 1,000 persons.

Their clients hail from Ukraine and surrounding countries that have received refugees from this war, as well as Ukrainian migrants struggling to understand what is happening in their home country. They are affected by depression, anxiety, loss of hope and motivation & utter fear.

The more troubling and dramatic symptoms include suicide ideation and attempts, domestic violence, panic reactions by children constantly disturbed by the sirens and long hours in the shelters, fear of leaving homes, going to school or work, distancing from family members.

Hub members are also training candidates for priestly ministry to recognize emotional problems among faithful seeking their help and to serve as a bridge of referral to competent mental health professionals.

Some 60 of these seminarians have also sought treatment for themselves as well – even the helpers need support during this time of upheaval and war. On the other hand, the hub includes spiritual directors – in order to address the needs of the whole person, created in the image of God.

I am pleased and grateful that my organization, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), has been able to provide funding to the psychological hubs of both the Greek Catholic and Latin Catholic Churches in Ukraine to meet these vital needs of people affected by war.

ICMC is grateful to the generous donors who have made this vital partnership between ICMC and the Catholic Church in Ukraine possible. It represents the same healing ministry to which Jesus invited us, some 2000 years ago, during His ministry on this earth and inspires us to continue at present and into the future.

Today, we met with the Latin Catholic Church Archbishop of Lviv. He spoke of both the physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty of the people seeking his help. They no longer ask for money but simply need food. The children themselves ring his doorbell asking for snacks.

He expressed deep thanks to ICMC for their support of mental health programming, but warned that this need will continue for generations to come – the wounds of war are deep and long-lasting. He also asked for help with first aid kits to treat the wounded at the battlefront.

He encouraged us to join him in prayer for peace, a peace that can come only with God’s divine and miraculous grace and healing. He spoke of officiating at the funerals of hundreds of soldiers and trying to comfort the mothers, widows, and orphans.

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo*

* Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo is Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission.


ICMC provides assistance and protection to vulnerable people on the move and advocates for sustainable solutions for refugees and migrants.