Palm Sunday people

March 24, 2024 

Sunday, March 24
Lviv, Ukraine

This morning I woke up to the sound of a tornado siren followed by a mechanized male voice making some sort of public announcement in the square outside my hotel window. I opened my window to hear better, but of course still didn’t understand what the voice was saying because I don’t speak Ukrainian no matter how loud it is. After a few seconds, it concluded. I closed my window and started my morning routine.

We went to the Roman Catholic Cathedral with the stained-glass windows covered to protect them from bombs. Monsignor Vitillo was concelebrating Palm Sunday Mass with one of the parish priests. As Bruce, Christian, and I walked to the church, we talked about how well we slept and what the itinerary was for the day. Instead of palms, in Ukraine you buy small bunches of pussy willows and flowers from people selling them on the steps of the cathedral. The Mass began with a lovely hymn whose words of course I didn’t understand, but the sadness of it was palpable. I reached into my purse to grab my Give Us This Day booklet (which contains the readings for Mass so I could follow in English) and for the first time all month noticed the cover. It is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, gloriously extending the cup to heaven while also asking if it could possibly pass but knowing it won’t. The anticipation of what He is to endure over the next few days, according to the Scriptures, makes Him so frightened he sweats blood. 

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As we were walking back to the hotel after breakfast, the sirens started again followed by the voice. No one on the street reacted, and if Msgr. Vitillo hadn’t turned to me at that moment, I would have thought I was the only one hearing it. What it was – of course – was an air raid siren. The voice was advising everyone to go to the shelters. And if you looked at the world news Monday, March 25, you would have seen that Poland was angered that Russian rockets passed through its air space in a bombing on a target outside Lviv this morning.

The reason I tell you this is that I, along with everyone else, should have been sweating blood. And I think deep down we all were, except that the people around me in the streets have lived with this for so long they are out of blood to sweat. This was the first Palm Sunday that I even had a hint of what maybe it felt like for Jesus of Nazareth as he entered what would be his final week. I feel very confident it will not be mine; but to face such a raw fear is new for me.

As we arrived at the hotel, I thought about the people who are sweating invisible blood all around us. The people of Lviv and Ukraine and Gaza and Sudan and all parts of the world where there is violence and unrest; the people who are facing a diagnosis that is life-changing, or even ending; the people who live with unspeakable trauma or devastation and struggle just to make it through the day appearing to be “fine.”

They are the Palm Sunday people. They are today’s Jesus of Nazareth we are called to love and comfort and care for. It was a lot to think about.

Yet, it was only 10:30 a.m. and time to change into sturdier shoes and head out to visit the soldier’s cemetery and have lunch with the Archbishop. These events, I have a strong feeling, will reappear in future blog posts this week but are too much for now.

Before I let you go – I have to tell you about our driver here in Ukraine. He speaks no English and picked us up yesterday in Poland; although I have only known him for one day, I wish I could tell him how he has broadened my horizons in life. Thanks to his driving I can now say I have some idea what it feels like to ride the Knight Bus to Diagon Alley like in “Harry Potter” or be a rider in the movie “Speed.” Our driver attacks the road with a Superman sort of velocity, and with cat-like stealth weaves our passenger van in and out and around barriers, seemingly defying laws of physics to miss potholes and pedestrians and semi-trucks by mere inches before roaring forward again.

I feel safe in his van because nothing, not even a Russian rocket, could catch a vehicle when he’s behind the wheel. He is all-in and fierce, and he’s going to get us where we need to go. This Holy Week, I pray that all the Palm Sunday people in the world have someone who cares for them as our Ukrainian driver protects us.

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Palm Sunday people