“Pageantry, passion, prayers and song filled the historic St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland on Sunday as at least 500 people and the Roman Catholic clergy and other religious leaders gathered for an “Interfaith Prayer Service For Peace in Ukraine.”
“The doors to the cathedral are open wide to welcome you all,” said Bishop David A. Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
More than 60 religious leaders, including priests and ministers, bishops and rabbis, had marched solemnly down the long church aisle to open the service. They filled six long pews, and 18 of them joined Bishop Zubik on the altar.
Many wore long black cassocks or white robes accented by brightly colored stoles embroidered in rainbow hues including purple, crimson, gold, green and blue.
“I have been crying with my beloved motherland, Ukraine,” said the Rev. Father Ihor Hohosha of Saint George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brighton Heights. “I speak to you from the bottom of my heart. Pray from the bottom of your heart.”
“I can’t believe this is happening. This is war. This is genocide for the Ukrainian nation,” Father Hohosha said. “On behalf of the people of Ukraine, I thank you for your presence [at the service]. I embrace all of you and I feel your pain. Please pray and continue to support Ukraine. I believe in God. I believe in humanity and humanity is rising now.”
The end of his emotional address was met with loud applause. Some worshippers shouted words of encouragement in the language of his homeland.
Leaders from more than 24 churches and organizations attended and co-sponsored the event, including: African Methodist Episcopal Church, Broderhof Church Communities, Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, Islamic Relief USA, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Center for Loving Kindness, Pittsburgh Presbytery, Salvation Army, Turkish Cultural Center Pittsburgh and Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Also represented were Alliance for Humanitarian Initiative, Nonviolence and Spiritual Advancement, Catholic Charities, Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network and Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation.
Bishop Zubik participated in the 90-minute service and made the long aisle walk before and after the service, though he had shoulder surgery less than a month ago. His left arm and shoulder were held close to his body under his flowing purple robes.
Among the Pittsburgh area’s 622,000 Catholics, many have Ukrainian roots, Bishop Zubik noted, saying: “We pray for their consolation. Peace is one of the most precious gifts that God can give.”
Many worshippers were dressed in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.
“The flag has the blue of the sky and the gold of the wheat in the fields,” Father Hohosha said.
Retired pediatrician Jane Breck wore a bright blue jacket and a yellow straw hat adorned with a sunflower. She was buoyed by the large turnout.
“It’s the national flower of Ukraine,” where there are large fields of the big yellow flowers, she said.
“I’m a second-generation Ukrainian American. My name before I married was Mikuliak.”
She’s a member of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the South Side.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald sat in a front pew, his presence acknowledged by the bishop.
“What a tremendous outpouring of people and support,” Mr. Fitzgerald said in a brief interview after the service. ‘In a time when the country has been so divided, Ukraine is the one thing that has unified people.’”