Rome Newsroom, Jan 26, 2022 / 07:27 am (CNA).
For Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Pope Francis’ declaration of a day of prayer in Ukraine brings “the hope of peace” in the Eastern European country.
The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church told CNA in an interview that the pope’s initiative underlined that “if ever a conflict would break in Ukraine, it would be a threat not only to Ukraine but to the whole world.”
Amid a build-up of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine, a country of 44 million people, Pope Francis called last Sunday for a day of prayer for peace on Jan. 26.
The event is the culmination of a series of papal appeals for peace and political negotiations in Europe’s second-largest country by area after Russia.
Since the so-called “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014, Ukraine has faced enduring conflict. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, the war is ongoing in the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Pope Francis has consistently shown his concern for the Ukrainian people. In 2016, he launched a charitable project, known as “The Pope for Ukraine,” that has helped more than a million people.
In July 2019, he summoned the bishops and synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to Rome for a meeting with the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, has visited Ukraine twice. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, also traveled there, reaching the territories engulfed in conflict.
Shevchuk told CNA that the proclamation of a day of prayer for Ukraine “was for us like the Christmas Star that came to shine out of the dark.”
“We are grateful to the pope, who heard our voice and reaffirmed that the situation here is serious. Not only Ukraine but humanity would suffer if a conflict broke out,” he said.
He explained that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church — the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome — has organized a chain of prayer on Jan. 26 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, during which “all of our eparchies, metropolitan churches, monasteries from all over the world will join in prayer with us in Ukraine.”
Shevchuk said that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has eparchies and exarchates in four continents, was already engaged in praying for peace.
“Every day, we pray the rosary for peace at 8 p.m., which is broadcast live on television and followed by 20,000 people. In addition, every day of the week, according to a rotation, an eparchy or exarchate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church commits to fasting for peace,” he noted.
While the major archbishop shares concerns about a deeper Russian incursion into the country, he said: “This is not the first time that fear spread: we have been living in conflict for eight years. But, sad to say, people sometimes adapt to the situation, and they live as if there was no war in Ukraine.”
Shevchuk is the past president of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which gathers all the country’s religious groups. He said that in Ukraine, churches have always served as a “hotspot of safety, hope, and reasonable proposals to address difficult situations.”
“Churches and religious organizations are cooperating for the good of the people, at every level: they help to find missing people, they negotiate the liberation of hostages, they commit to providing humanitarian assistance to those in need,” he said.
Asked if ecumenical efforts in the country could work as a “track to diplomacy,” Shevchuk replied that the council is currently drafting a declaration.
“The declaration will be first of all addressed to the faithful, our first interlocutor. We want to prevent their panic, as panic is the worst enemy in this hybrid war we are living in. Because of panic, people bought all food supplies, withdrew money from the bank system, and carried on a series of initiatives that can lead society to collapse,” he said.
Shevchuk added that “as churches, entrusted with a moral authority, we must address the issues of people who are suffering, because living with the fear of losing everything tomorrow is one of the greatest tortures.”
The declaration will also be addressed to Ukrainian politicians, asking them to be united, as well as to international interlocutors, as many ambassadors have sought to engage with church leaders.
Shevchuk underlined that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has a global reach. He mentioned an appeal by the Archieparch Valdomiro Koubetch of Curitiba, which had an “impressive echo in Brazil,” as well as statements issued by Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops in North America.
“They issued their appeals not only as a member of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church but also as a member of the bishops’ conferences of their countries,” he observed.
Pope Francis’ interest in Ukraine has prompted rumors of a possible papal trip to the country. Shevchuk did not confirm the rumors, but said: “We are waiting for him and we will do everything we can so that the pope might visit Ukraine and get in touch with these people he prays for every day, as the pope himself said.”
Ukraine is a majority Orthodox Christian country where ecumenical relations are sometimes difficult. There are also tensions within Orthodoxy: After Bartholomew I of Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate broke ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, accusing it of encroaching on its canonical territory.
With a second meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow seemingly imminent, Shevchuk said that he was not concerned about the possible outcome.
“We are happy about an eventual meeting since it is good that the mediator meets both parties when there is a conflict,” he commented.
“We know that Pope Francis often meets Patriarch Bartholomew, and we hope that this routine will be replicated with Patriarch Kirill. A meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will give them time to think together, and this will make things clearer for us in Ukraine.”
He added: “These meetings have a prophetic dimension, as they show the will to carry forward a culture of the encounter and dialogue. If there will be a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, it will pave the way for similar meetings at a local level, also in Ukraine.”
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