Ukrainian bishops meet with Francis; detail crisis: “Ukrainians have endured a new type of onslaught …”

Pope expresses his "profound recognition for your fidelity and I encourage you to make yourselves tireless witnesses to that hope which makes more luminous our existence and that of all our brothers and sisters around us."

The Bishops from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine just had their ad limina visit with Pope Francis. In a four-page statement they provided details of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine,  appealed to the Holy Father for his “leadership and charitable help”, and reminded Francis that the “UGCC has demonstrated with its very blood its solidarity with the Bishop of Rome and the worldwide Catholic communion.” Here are a couple of key sections:

For the past two years Ukrainians have endured a new type of onslaught – a hybrid war directed at their sovereignty, economic viability, historical memory, and international standing. A Еuropean nation has been invaded, its land annexed, its industrial infrastructure destroyed, and its economy crippled. The freedom, self-determination, justice, and welfare of the people are under attack. The very identity of Ukrainians is systematically denigrated through relentless and sophisticated international propaganda at a level not witnessed in Europe since the time of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism.

Why? The answer is simple. Because the people of Ukraine are claiming their God-given human dignity. They are determined to break with a Soviet past—genocidal, colonial and imperialistic, ferociously atheistic and profoundly corrupt. During the past century, dominated by red and brown totalitarianisms, Ukraine became what historians call a “bloodland.” Some 15 million people were killed on its territory: in both World Wars, through campaigns of national and religious repression, genocides, particularly the Holodomor (killing by starvation) and the Holocaust, war-induced famine, and ethnic cleansing. Millions more spent years or even decades in prisons, labor camps, and Siberian exile.

Godless dictators sought to uproot faith and values and to destroy the culture and social fabric of the people in order to dominate, control, and exploit the nation. The state sought to control family life. Abortion became part of state policy. Alcoholism became rampant. All Churches and religions that stood with the persecuted population were prime targets of repression. For three generations terror was promoted as explicit state policy. Fear was driven into the nation’s heart. And yet, faithful Christians survived the persecution, sustained by the words of our Lord: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). …

Two years ago, by means of peaceful protest of millions throughout the country, accompanied by the prayer of Ukraine’s religious communities—Orthodox, Greek and Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim—the people said: “Enough! We will be free. We want to live without fear and corruption, to live with justice. We have dignity.” People came to realise that their dignity is not only a function of constitutional rights but that it is indeed sacred, God’s own holy plan. The hourly prayers on the Maidan helped the protesters understand the fundamental scriptural tenet: We are created in the image and likeness of God (see Gen 1:26), and while the image cannot be destroyed, the likeness requires effort, virtue, and a determination to order society according to divine law. This manifestation of solidarity and sacrifice fascinated the world.

Not all, however, were thrilled. The new sense of freedom, dignity, and civic responsibility and prospects of association with European peoples and nations needed to be stopped: it could spread to Ukraine’s neighbors. Thus, for the last two years, the entire Ukrainian nation is being punished by its northern neighbor nostalgic for the Soviet legacy of imperial grandeur. Such hegemony can be maintained only through fear, intimidation, and control of the media. It requires a disregard for human rights and freedom of conscience. The punishment meted out to Ukrainians for their audacity to be free is brutal, cynical, and manipulative. The agenda of abuse seeks international legitimization and cultivates enmity towards and rejection of the will of the people of Ukraine. It seeks to stop the development of civil society and the establishment of true rule of law.

The Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the members of the Permanent Synod came to Rome to meet His Holiness Pope Francis to share a message from their flock and the entire Ukrainian nation. This message needs to be fully understood by the global Christian family and the international community: We are under violent foreign invasion and we need your moral leadership and charitable help.

The bishops stated that “Ukraine is enduring a mounting humanitarian crisis, the greatest in Europe since the end of the World War II” and noted while Europe has taken in approximately 1 million refugees from the Middle East in recent years, “without great international clamor and commotion Ukraine in the last two years has absorbed 2 million refugees-internally displaced persons”—despite having an annual budget 400 times less than the EU.

They also noted that their meeting with the Ppoep came “on the eve of the 70th anniversary of what historians call the ‘Pseudosynod of Lviv.'”:

Orchestrated 8-10 March 1946 by Stalin’s regime to liquidate the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) this “synod” was held without any Greek Catholic bishops, since all had been imprisoned. Despite being beaten, tortured, and threatened with long prison sentences and even death, they had all refused to deny communion with the Pope. As a result the UGCC became the largest completely outlawed Church in the world. Its property was transferred to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate or confiscated and used for secular purposes. Stalin wanted to cut the ties of Ukrainian Greek Catholics with the Bishop of Rome. Many of the bishops died in prison or in the Gulag.

Hundreds of clergy and religious and tens of thousands of laity met a similar fate. However, our hope and “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 124:8). Today the Soviet Union is gone, and the once powerful persecutors are consigned to history and divine judgment. Meanwhile, the martyrs are being canonized, and their spiritual children grow in spirit and number. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28). The Lord has blessed the suffering and sacrifice in order to fulfill his purpose. At the beginning of twentieth century —the century of sacrifice— the UGCC had three western-Ukrainian eparchies (dioceses) with three bishops. Today it has thirty-three eparchies and exarchates with 53 bishops on four continents. If in 1989, at the end of the catacomb period, only 300 aged priests remained of the 3000 pre-war clergy, today there are again 3000 priests with an average age of 38. The Church in Ukraine is vibrant and dynamic. We came to Rome to reaffirm communion of the revived UGCC with the Holy Father and to bear witness to our unity with the Universal Catholic Church.

The entire statement can be read here. The Pope’s letter can be read here. It states, in part:

Making mine the words of the Apostle Peter, I express my profound recognition for your fidelity and I encourage you to make yourselves tireless witnesses to that hope which makes more luminous our existence and that of all our brothers and sisters around us. I also renew my solidarity with the Pastors and faithful for all they do in this difficult time, marked by the tribulations of war, to alleviate the sufferings of the population and to seek the paths to peace for the beloved Ukrainian land.

Our courage and our joy is in the Lord. And it is to Him that I turn, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the martyrs of your Church, that divine consolation illuminate the faces of your communities in Ukraine and in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, from the heart I impart to You and to the Bishops, the priests, the religious and the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church a special Apostolic Blessing as a sign of my continued affection and remembrance.

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.