Carrying a Cross to War: A Catholic View of the War in the Ukraine

Anna Richardson, Social Media Editor and Web Director

Nuclear warfare is something that students study in history classes. Especially in U.S. History II, they learn about Russia, America, the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. However, most of these young people in their lifetime did not think they would actually witness a nation being held under atomic threat.

Feb. 24 of 2022, eight years into what is known as the Russo-Ukrainian War, Russia’s military invaded Ukraine. The world was in shock. This invasion and lackluster response from other nations still stir the minds of millions around the world. But many are left wondering what to actually do about the conflict.

A great deal of people are quick to jump to the idea of the U.S. entering a war of mass scale. While this idea of sudden attack does seem appealing to someone’s sense of justice, with even just a moment of thought it is clear that this course of action could have many devastating consequences. More vulnerable or smaller countries could be caught in the crossfire.

Many believe that the use of the atomic bomb is the best line of action. However, even with that option, there is still an extravagant amount of ifs, ands and buts that could cause flaws within that plan. What if Russia launches their own atomic bombs back at the U.S., what if they launch their bombs at Ukraine? 

However, what if the stars did align and present the perfect situation to drop a bomb? Then the war would end, right? Possibly, but that route of “peace” brings a sword of guilt with it.
But what does the Church think about war?

Well, as one could probably guess, the Catholic Church is against war. According to the fifth commandment and the recognition of human dignity, any form of destruction of human life is strictly forbidden in the Church. Because of this, the Church urges everyone to pray and take courses of action that would avoid the evils and devastation of war at any cost. 

Nevertheless, it seems that the horrors of war are inevitable so long as sin exists in the heart of men. 

It is stated in paragraph 2308 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, ‘as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.’”

This is the introduction to what the Church calls, “Just War Theory”. It dives into the conditions necessary to go to war, what obligations a government has, what obligations a citizen has and what spiritual dangers war brings.

There are four main requirements the Church presents in order to declare war.

1) The devastation caused by the attacking nation must be lasting, grave and certain.

2) All efforts of peace have already been taken.

3) There has to be a chance of success.

4) The power of defense must not be greater than the attacker. The power of modern destruction is a large part of evaluating this situation.

So in all states of the matter, the church says the same thing. A country has the right to go to war for defense, but the war must be at a proportionate level.

However, one of the main doctrines of the Catholic Church is the recognition of the innate dignity of human life. The definition of war does not cooperate with that truth. It has been clear throughout modern history that the Church does what it can to avoid the tragedies of war at all costs.

Even Pope Francis commented on the state of war in the world during the 2014 Syria Crisis.

“How many conflicts, how many wars have mocked our history?,” he said. “Even today we raise our hand against our brother. … We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”

The Ukraine is right in defending itself against an unjust attack. But even though the defense may be just, the devastation this conflict has brought, especially to the tens of millions of civilians living in the Ukraine, is not.

That’s all great, but where does that leave the rest of the world? To watch? Well, not necessarily. The just war theory also states that military intervention is sometimes necessary to achieve peace.

On a government level, this all makes sense. But as civilians in Wichita, Kan., it may seem hard to aid in the fight from afar. There are things that young Catholic people can do to help those in Ukraine. 

KMC Campus Minister and religion teacher Landon Downing gives a couple ideas on how young people, especially those at KMC, can assist in the efforts of peace.

“I feel like we’ve forgotten the power of fasting and sacrificing,” Downing said. “We forget we can tangibly deny ourselves something  to offer it up for somebody else. And that was an ancient practice in church tradition.”

Now more than ever, the need for prayers is immensely great. It is through the intercession of those in heaven that civilian Catholics can help not only those suffering from the devastation of the war, but also the soldiers fighting in it. 

KMC chaplain Fr. Curtis Hecker explains specifically the impact of prayer during this time.

The most important thing that Catholic youth can do today for the war between Russia and Ukraine is to pray. There is no substitute for prayer and the Lord always hears the fervent prayers of the young,” Curtis said.

Another means of aiding in the effort is to make physical contributions to the cause. Many charities, including Catholic Relief Services, are taking action in Ukraine. They are bringing essential supplies to civilians such as shelter, meals and hygiene products. 

All in all, it is clear that the war between Russia and the Ukraine is a devastating event that will leave a dark spot on the world’s history. And while it may seem like an intelligent idea to aid the Ukrainian cause by U.S. intervention via bombings or military assistance, that option would coincide with many detrimental effects. 

Although the Catholic Church has a hard fast stance regarding the destruction or deforming of human dignity and life, its adherence to the just war theory proves that it also accounts for extreme and unfortunate circumstances.

It is through this notion that the total Catholic stance on war revolves around the ultimate need of sustaining and protecting peace, only resorting to war and violence in the most ferocious circumstances.