The day that we have been hoping would never come arrived last week as we watched the unfolding violence on the people of Ukraine on our screens. It seems impossible to believe that in 21st century Europe, there are people afraid and hiding in bomb shelters as missile attacks and tank warfare unleash a path of death and destruction. In the grip of the fighting, civilians are trying to escape and whatever the outcome of this terrible conflict, Ukraine is heading for a humanitarian catastrophe. As we often witness, it is the poor, weak, old, and young that pay the highest price in times of conflict.

This tragedy may seem distant from us and we are reminded how fortunate we are to live in a nation of such relative peace and security. At this stage, all we can do is pray for peace and pray for the people of Ukraine, the people of Russia and their respective leaders. Peace is so much more than simply the absence of war. It is a gift, and it is also a decision. It is a choice that shapes the way people live well alongside each other.

Pope Francis has invited everyone, "believers and non-believers alike", to make Ash Wednesday, a Day of Fasting for Peace. He recalled a quote from his encyclical Fratelli tutti: “Every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.”