A man shouts slogans during a Dec. 8 rally organized by supporters of the European Union integration at Independence Square in central Kiev, Ukraine. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
A Russian bid to draw Ukraine away from the European Union and
more exclusively into its own economic and political orbit has had its equal
and opposite reaction in the EuroMaidan movement: demonstrations against oppressive government and
in favor of European values that started in late November of 2013 on a central
square [maidÁn] in the capital, Kyiv
[Kiev], and have spread to more than half of the provinces of that former
Soviet-bloc nation. Remarkably, in a
land where members of parliament have been caught on video throwing punches at
each other during budget disputes, these popular demonstrations remained
peaceful for two full months, until the Berkut
(riot police) resorted to violent tactics, beat protestors mercilessly, and
killed at least three.
Hanging in the balance is not only the economic fate of independent
Ukraine but also its future commitment to fundamental human rights and
democratic principles. Without
commenting on political issues, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) has
constantly and eloquently defended the freedoms of Ukrainian citizens to
assemble, to speak their mind, and to choose and practice a religion. Together with other members of the
All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, it has provided
pastoral ministry to the demonstrators camped on the city squares, preached the
peaceful resolution of conflicts, and offered to mediate between the opposition
parties and the government.
In early January 2014 Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture sent a letter
to the head of the UGCC, pointing to the presence of Ukrainian Catholic priests
on the Maidan as possible grounds for
revoking the registration of their Church.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the UGCC, responded promptly
and publicly, defending the Church’s “right to
assess the situation in the country, if there are violations of human rights
and of the principles of public morality flowing from God’s law and reflected
in the social teaching of the Church” [see CWR blog, January 13, 2014, “Head
of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church responds to threats by authorities”]. On Friday, January 17, at the request of the
Ministry of Culture, His Beatitude Sviatoslav met with the Minister of Culture
of Ukraine, Leonid Mykhaylovich Novokhatko.
During their meeting, which was also attended by the head of the
governmental Department of Religions and Nationalities and the head of External
Relations of the UGCC in Ukraine, reassurances were given that the Ministry
does not intend to put any pressure on the UGCC or take any legal actions to
stop the activities of its affiliated religious organizations. Appreciation was expressed for the peace-keeping
role of the clergy during the protests.
His Beatitude said that he hoped that the public authorities have the
wisdom not to carry the current socio-political crisis over into the religious
On January 21, His
Beatitude Sviatoslav called on the Ukrainian people to refrain from
violence and to stop the bloodshed. In a
video message in Ukrainian (posted on YouTube) that was published also as a
press release Ukrainian, Russian, and English at the news website of the UGCC,
His Beatitude Sviatoslav said:
dismay and sadness we witness the events taking place at the moment in Kyiv…. In
view of these exceptional circumstances, I would like to appeal to all the
faithful of our Church, to the Ukrainian people, and to all people of good will:
In the name of God, stop the bloodshed! Violence was never the way to build a
free and independent state! Bloodshed will
never reconcile hearts or bring a positive outcome.
I appeal to
the Ukrainian authorities: Listen to your people, hear them, do not use
violence against them or repressive mechanisms!
I appeal to political
leaders of our country: Realize your responsibility for the future of
your people, the responsibility for the calls and the steps that you offer them
I appeal to
society, to citizens, members of various NGOs, especially the protestors who
are standing on the Maidan: I beg of you,
go back to the peaceful nature of the protests. Do not let emotions get
the better of you. Neither fear nor aggression nor anger was ever helpful
in determining our future.
I appeal to the
Ukrainian judges: Listen to the voice of your conscience, remember that
there is no justice without truth. Ask yourself why people call you “Your
Honor”. Do not tarnish your honor with unjust decisions.
I appeal our
episcopate and clergy: Especially at a time like this watch over the souls entrusted
to you! Reach their hearts and minds with your words of peace.
Proclaim the Gospel of Christ’s Peace!
English text as published in The Way,
Ukrainian Catholic Newspaper of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia (January 26,
Angelus address on Sunday, January 26, Pope Francis called for prayers for
Ukraine, “in particular for those who have lost their lives in the violence of
the past days and for their families.”
He said that he is praying that the authorities and the opposition
movement will engage in constructive dialogue and avoid violence.
than a century the UGCC has had its own parishes and hierarchy among
communities of Ukrainian Catholic emigrants.
These Churches of the “diaspora” have expressed their solidarity with
their Mother Church in Ukraine. On
January 24 the four Eparchs (bishops of the “eparchies” or dioceses) of the
UGCC in Western Europe, who serve the Ukrainian Greek Catholic faithful in
Germany/Scandinavia, Great Britain, France/Switzerland/Benelux Countries and
Italy/Spain respectively, issued a statement supporting the actions of the UGCC
during the recent conflicts in Ukraine.
“The Church is not a political organization. However the Church is called to serve society
as an autonomous part of it. Her task is
to be with the people in service, and especially in suffering,” they said. The
Eparchs condemned the killing and torture, recalling the individual responsibility
before God of those who resort to such actions.
They also called on European governmental and private organizations to
be better informed about and more involved in current developments in
hierarchs of the UGCC in the United States (Archeparchy of Philadelphia and
Eparchies of Stamford, CT, Chicago, IL, and Parma, OH) also issued a statement
dated January 19 expressing their “complete confidence and support” for the
hierarchs, clergy, religious, and faithful of the UGCC in Ukraine “in their
response of offering much needed pastoral care for the brave Ukrainian citizens
[who are] voicing their opposition to the suppression of freedoms in today’s
society in Ukraine. We share the
amazement of the civilized world in observing the harsh and brutal responses of
the Ukrainian government to our Church and to people expressing their concerns
for the welfare of their neighbors and their nation.” The statement warned that “Ukraine can be
regarded as the stage [i.e. arena] for the re-imposition of specific ideologies
of control and repression,” and therefore called for solidarity, prayers, and
At the request of Archbishop Steven Soroka, last weekend special
prayer petitions “for a peaceful end to the tragic events and violence in
Ukraine” were included in all Divine Liturgies in the Archeparchy of
Philadelphia (which includes UGCC parishes located in eastern PA, NJ,
MD, DE, Washington, D.C., and VA). One
of the petitions read:
Celebrant: We also pray to the Almighty Lord for the
people of Ukraine who are struggling these days to defend their God-given
rights and freedom of speech, choice, and religion. Grant them all and especially the leaders of
the Ukrainian nation wisdom, good judgment, and discernment to find mutual
understanding and respect that would lead to a peaceful resolution of the
ongoing conflict, we pray to You, O Lord, and have mercy.
Response: Lord have mercy.