UKRAINE – Pope Francis praises Ukrainian Greek-Catholics for keeping the faith in difficult circumstances
In a meeting with leaders of the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) Pope Francis praised their people, saying they were “tireless witnesses of hope” in Christ amid decades of hardships. The UGCC is the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches, with around 4.42 million faithful, mainly in in Ukraine, though it has large expatriate communities in Argentina, the United States, Canada, Poland and Brazil.
“In some circumstances, our human condition is made even more fragile due to difficult historical situations, which mark the life of the People of God, of the Community that Jesus Christ our Lord purchased with his blood,” Pope Francis told Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the UGCC.
Francis remarked on the 70th anniversary of the 1946 pseudo-synod of Lviv, a council orchestrated by Josef Stalin’s regime as part of the forcible absorption of the UGCC into the Russian Orthodox Church event: “A particular ideological and political context, as well as the existence of ideas that were contrary to the very existence of your Church, led to the organization of a pseudo-synod in Lviv, and caused decades of suffering for the pastors and the faithful”. All UGCC bishops, hundreds of clergy and tens of thousands of Catholics were imprisoned, while all the Church’s property was either transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church or confiscated for non-religious use.
The Pope expressed his deep gratitude: “In sad memory of these events we bow our heads in deep gratitude before those, who at the cost of suffering and even martyrdom, continued to witness the faith” and encouraged Ukranians to be “tireless witnesses of that hope which makes our existence and the existence of all of our brothers and sisters more luminous”.
Francis expressed solidarity with the clergy and faithful for all they do in “this difficult time marked by the hardships of war, to alleviate the suffering of the population and to seek the ways of peace for the beloved Ukrainian land.” He ended by offering his apostolic blessing to Archbishop Shevchuk and to the bishops, priests, consecrated and laity of the UGCC, as a sign of his “constant affection and prayers” .
In a statement issued by the Permanent Synod of the UGCC afterwards, Archbishop Shevchuk said “We came to reaffirm our communion with the Holy Father and to ask for his help for the suffering people of Ukraine during the Jubilee Year of Mercy….. And the Holy Father heard us.” Shevchuk stressed Pope Francis’ “moral authority” over the people of Ukraine, adding: “We reaffirm what no totalitarian regime could break: our communion with Rome and the Universal Church.”
The statement went on to condemn the violence, kidnappings, imprisonment, torture and atrocities against the human dignity of citizens of Ukraine, especially against religious communities and ethnic groups. It concluded by calling on the Pope and the global community to “help stop the war and stem the humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Archbishop Shevchuk said the UGCC is “ready to provide responsible, transparent, ecumenically sound administration of international aid,” to the Ukrainian population, regardless of “ethnicity, political or linguistic preferences or religious affiliation.”
“Enough of this suffering. It can be prevented. It can be healed. Let us make the ‘Year of Mercy’ a reality for the people of Ukraine.”
The hostilities have taken their toll on Ukraine’s infrastructure and its citizens, leaving 10,000 people dead, tens of thousands injured and over 2 million homeless.The country’s currency has also dropped to two-thirds of its previous value, which in turn has impoverished the country.