By Neva Rae Fox
“This is a catastrophe in a humanitarian way,” said Bishop Mark Edington, describing the current Ukrainian refugee situation. “We are the front line of what is becoming a really difficult humanitarian situation in Europe.”
Edington, bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, said people are also leaving Russia and moving into such places as Georgia, the home of a Convocation church in Tbilisi. “Georgia is afraid that they may be next” to be invaded, he said.
Presenting to the Province II Synod on May 5, Edington cited stats from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) that from February 24, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, to May 1, the adjoining countries have sheltered more than 5.5 million refugees, with more fleeing every day. His presentation is available online as part of the recording of the online synod meeting, starting at 1:42:07.
Edington presented an impassioned overview of the Russian invasion. “What’s happening in Ukraine is not really about Ukraine, at least it’s not only about Ukraine,” he explained. “It is really about the objective of Russia and its government to change the map of the post-Cold War settlement in Europe.”
He continued, “Russia would prefer to see Europe return to a sort of 19th-century era of spheres of influence, where America is sort of stuck to its home and Russia had much more influence on the continent of Europe.”
Expanding on the major concern, he said, “What we’re very worried about is that Russia is trying to drive this conflict into what we speak of as an Article 5 confrontation” which calls for an attack on one NATO member to be treated as an attack on all members.
“Russia is trying to drive our country into a very difficult choice about whether we would risk a nuclear confrontation with the government of Russia over an attack on, say, Estonia, or Latvia, or a country in the Baltics, or even maybe Poland.” He said a failure to respond would destroy NATO.
Edington spoke of the longtime ministry to refugee work in Europe. As home to the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in Rome, which serves 10,000 refugees a year, “The convocation has a historic commitment to ministry with refugees and migrants.” Edington said that plans call for expansion of the center.
Assistance can be offered through Episcopal Relief & Development as the convocation partners with them.
He concluded, “This is a very, very dangerous moment in history. It is a difficult moment in the church.”
Edington grew up in Michigan, and before entering ministry pursued a career in international relations. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He was consecrated in 2019 as the 26th Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, but only the second elected bishop.
With 20 churches in seven European countries, the convocation is one of 12 dioceses in Province II, which also includes two New Jersey dioceses and six in New York, and the Virgin Islands, Cuba, and Haiti.
Neva Rae Fox is a communications consultant/coordinator for Province II.