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Siohban Heekin-Canedy (’18)
Siohban Heekin-Canedy (’18)

In a recent article for America media, alumna author and onetime Olympian Siohban Heekin-Canedy (’18) addresses how American Catholics should view their brothers and sisters in Ukraine — and in Russia. “I speak out in support of Ukraine, but I still consider some Russians who are sympathetic to Vladimir Putin as friends,” she writes. “I believe there is something distinctly Catholic about this approach.”

Ms. Heekin-Canedy had the honor of competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Representing Ukraine as an ice dancer at the games held in Sochi, Russia, she left with a rich perspective on, and many friends from, both countries — which has made recent events in Eastern Europe all the more devastating. “When Russia began its all-out invasion of Ukraine last February, escalating the war that began with its annexation of Crimea in 2014,” she writes, “I was doubly heartbroken.”

While the suffering of Ukraine has led Western critics to demonize the Russian people at large, Ms. Heekin-Canedy reminds readers of the need to temper such reactions. Media manipulation and the fog of war make it difficult to assess the complicity of everyday Russian citizens in Putin’s war of aggression. “It is easy for Americans to say that Russians should know better than to believe their country is fighting ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine,” she  writers. “But I ask myself: Would I be better able to discern the truth in their place?”

Praying for, and striving to achieve, mutual understanding is not just a matter of international prudence, but an imperative of Christian faith. “Putting the ‘both/and’ of our Catholic faith into practice has the power to remind all Americans that we can be people of deep moral conviction while seeking to understand, and even see goodness in, those who do not share all our conclusions.” In this way, Ms. Heekin-Canedy reminds American Catholics to imitate the Savior Himself, Who from the Cross prayed for His executioners: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).