By Sister Cynthia Serjak

“Take me with you, Hyacinth, I will make the burden light.”

The year was 1241 and the city of Kyiv was under siege. Hyacinth, a local monk, ran to the sanctuary to take the Blessed Sacrament to a safe place. As he turned to leave, he heard a pleading voice: “Take me with you, Hyacinth.” He realized it was the image of Our Lady of Kyiv, begging to be rescued.

War often takes a toll on artworks—religious and non-religious—that are precious to the community. There are many stories of heroic efforts to box up statues and send them to safe shelter, hide paintings in secret rooms, even bury items to save them from the ravages of war. To the people who could listen, these important expressions of a people’s life have cried out: Take us with you.

The anecdote continues that Hyacinth knew he couldn’t carry the Virgin, an image that was too heavy, too much for already full arms. But he trusts and he tries, and he finds that the heaviness has become light and he is able to easily bear his burden.

While we may consider this story a pious legend, it raises one of the fundamental mysteries of difficult times—how is God present in times of suffering? Or for the people of Kyiv today, where is their patron, Our Lady of Kyiv, as their culture and homeland are bombarded? Even as the question rises in our hearts, we already know the answer: God is always with us, and is especially present to those who are suffering. With the people of Kyiv today, we know that the love of Our Lady of Kyiv glows in the embers around them, that her compassion reaches out to them in the arms of those who risk their own lives to care for others, and that her faithfulness enlivens the tremendous courage and strength of her suffering friends. Her presence enables them to carry what they thought they could not.

Both our merciful God and the beloved Lady are with the suffering people in Ukraine. And, as God’s people, we also stand with them where and when we can. Even as we say again and again, we never thought this could happen in this day and age, we take to our hearts the cry: Take us with you! And we work and pray for the time when will people will live safely where they want to be.