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Russian troops capture two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests and accuse them of ‘subversion’

November 28, 2022 Catholic News Agency 0
Father Ivan Levystky (left) and Father Bohdan Geleta (right) / Credit: Donetsk Bishop’s Exarchy

CNA Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The Russian National Guard occupying the coastal city of Berdyansk, Ukraine, last week captured two priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and accused them of having committed “subversive” and “guerrilla” activities.

Redemptorist priests Father Hieromonk Ivan Levystky, abbot of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary church, and Father Bohdan Geleta, who also serves at the church, were accused of allegedly possessing weapons, ammunition, and books on Ukrainian history that were in a parish building. 

The Donetsk Exarchate denied the accusations, calling the detention “unfounded and illegal,” and demanded the prompt release of the clerics.

“From the beginning of the large-scale war of the Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine until the day of their arrest, the activities of both priests did not go beyond the scope of their pastoral duties,” a Nov. 25 statement from the exarchate affirmed. 

“At the time of the search of the church and the adjacent rectory and  premises of the parish, both priests were already under arrest; that is, they could not control these premises and the actions of the Russian National Guard in any way,” the statement pointed out.

“They cannot bear any responsibility for the weapons and ammunition allegedly found in those places. This is clear slander and a false accusation,” the local Church stressed.

The Donetsk Exarchate said that the behavior of the Russian local authorities toward the Ukrainian clergy “can only have one assessment: complete disregard for the fundamental principles of human rights.”

“Only because of their loyalty to God and the Church [have] the aforementioned ‘accusations’” been leveled against the priests, the exarchate said.

“Considering the above,” the exarchate said, “we demand the prompt release from custody and imprisonment of our priests, as well as ensuring their unhindered legal service to the spiritual needs of the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who live in Berdyansk.”

“We ask for the maximum dissemination of information in order to free the captive fathers. We appeal to the authorities and all people of goodwill with a request to join the cause for the release of priests, as well as for increased prayer in this regard. Merciful God, hear our prayers!” the Donetsk Exarchate’s statement concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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News Briefs

Ukraine’s Vatican ambassador rebukes Pope Francis for mention of Moscow car bomb victim

August 25, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
Pope Francis receives Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, April 7, 2022 / Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 25, 2022 / 12:05 pm (CNA).

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See criticized Pope Francis on Wednesday for lamenting the car bombing that killed the daughter of an ally of Russian President Vladmir Putin.

Speaking at his general audience on Aug. 24, Pope Francis issued an appeal to end the war in Ukraine. 

“I renew my invitation to implore peace from the Lord for the beloved Ukrainian people who for six months today have been suffering the horror of war. I hope that concrete steps will be taken to put an end to the war and to avert the risk of a nuclear disaster in Zaporizhzhia,” the Holy Father said.

Referring to the Aug. 20 death of Darya Dugina, a 29-year-old journalist and political commentator known for her support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the pope said:

“I think of that poor girl blown up by a bomb under her car seat in Moscow. The innocent pay for war, the innocent! Let us think about this reality and say to each other: war is madness.”

Dugina was the daughter of Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian political thinker, believed to be close to Putin.

After the pope’s remarks, Andrii Yurash, who became Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican in April 2022, rebuked Pope Francis on Twitter.

“Today’s speech of Pope was disappointing and made me think about many things: can’t speak in same categories about aggressor and victim, rapist and raped; how possible to mention one of ideologists of Imperialism as innocent victim? She was killed by Russians as sacred victim and is now on shield of war.”

Russia has accused Ukrainian special services of orchestrating the car bombing that killed Dugina, CNN reported

Oleksii Danylov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, denied the allegation on Monday.

“We have nothing to do with the murder of this lady — this is the work of the Russian special services,” Danylov said.

CNA reported today that a hoped-for meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis at an interreligious summit in Kazakhstan in September will not take place as planned. 

There had been speculation that the two leaders might meet in person, possibly in Jerusalem.

Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, the head of the Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations, told RIA-Novosti that the Vatican scrubbed plans for the meeting months ago.

“In the spring of this year, to our deep surprise, the Vatican unilaterally publicly announced that preparations for the meeting had been suspended, and that this meeting itself wouldn’t take place,” Anthony told RIA-Novosti.

On July 10, Yurash, Ukraine’s envoy to the Vatican, in an interview with Radio Liberty, said that he had been working to prevent the meeting from taking place.

 “The head of the Holy See speaks about a possible meeting with Kirill in September in Kazakhstan on the sidelines of the General Assembly. But we, diplomats, are doing everything possible to prevent the meeting from taking place: it will neither benefit the ecumenical dialogue nor add authority to the Apostolic capital because we are talking about a meeting with the devil’s advocate,” Yurash said.

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Catholic journalist flees Ukraine capital: ‘The war brings me closer to God’

March 8, 2022 Catholic News Agency 0
People raise the Ukrainian flag at Pope Francis’ Angelus address at the Vatican, March 6, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 8, 2022 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

A Catholic Ukrainian journalist documenting daily life in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the country has miraculously escaped Kyiv, she said. 

“God gave the sign [to leave], and gave the strength to realize it,” she said in a March 5 message. “This is amazing.”

St. Rita Radio, an EWTN affiliate located in Norway, is translating and sharing the journalist’s messages in the form of a video and podcast series titled “Diary from Kyiv.” The 3- to 6-minute episodes (available on YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts) feature a voice-over from a translator as images or short video clips from Ukraine appear. 

After spending several days chronicling life in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, the unidentified journalist announced her decision to leave the city after speaking with an acquaintance.

“He said, ‘Please take your sick mother and brother and try to leave Kyiv. It would be better,’” she remembered.

Her friend’s advice prompted her to “ask Jesus what he meant.”

Speaking with another friend over the phone, she prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Then, she opened up her Bible. 

“[I] felt in my heart that this was the sign from God that I needed to make a decision,” she stressed. “In the Word, I found confirmation that I must go.”

She placed her trust in God to find a way to leave the city.

“Currently, departures from Kyiv are limited, and it is not so easy to find transport,” she explained. 

But after making one phone call, she found a way out. A car was leaving Kyiv for their destination in one hour — and happened to have enough space for her and her family.

The journey was long, due to the traffic and checkpoints, she described. But she spent the time contemplating the “improbability of God’s action.”

“I also reflected on the lives of the Holy Family who were forced to leave everything and flee to Egypt,” she added. 

She will stay in her new location, she said, for as long as God wants.

“I will expect from God the next sign of where to go and what to do,” she said. 

Even though the war continues, she emphasized, it “brings me closer to God and shows his incredible action.”

The next day, March 6, she revealed she was at a monastery 200 kilometers (roughly 124 miles) from Kyiv.

“The nuns here help many people who are trying to escape from Kyiv and eastern Ukraine,” she said. “They use their rooms as temporary shelters so that people can rest, eat, sleep, and be able to travel further west of Ukraine.”

“Now, it will be our home,” she added. 

She identified her favorite place at the monastery: the chapel.

“We can go to prayer at any time and there is a round-the-clock adoration of the Holy Sacrament,” she said. 

While her family experienced a quiet evening, she mourned for those in the suburbs of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and other cities in northern Ukraine.

“The Russians fired on civilians and residential neighborhoods, attacking humanitarian corridors and evacuating people,” she said. “The railway used for transportation was blown up.”

She herself is not completely safe. 

“Local nuns said they [the Russians] have tried to attack the city twice,” she admitted. “One time, a rocket fell on the field and, the second time, one hit the house but did not explode.”

She recognized Mary’s protection.

“In this city, there is a miraculous icon of the Mother of God of the Holy Scapular,” she explained. “Therefore people sincerely believe that they are under the protection of the Virgin.”

She felt safe too, she said, and ended her video in prayer.

“Jesus is stronger than evil in the world. He proved it. He is our hope,” she said. “Mother of God of the Holy Scapular, envelope us with your cloak.”

The journalist’s series began when Pål Johannes Nes, the 42-year-old founder and chief editor of St. Rita Radio, approached her with an idea. 

“I asked her if she would be willing to tell her story,” he previously told CNA. “The story about how to live a life of faith during the time of war.”

Since then, the series has been a huge success.

“The response has been almost too much, for a small Internet radio in Norway,” he said. “Every episode is shared 10-20,000 times.”

Nes confirmed that the journalist is currently safe after leaving Kyiv with her sick mother and brother. Her story, he added, is receiving a response worldwide.

“I get emails and, today, also some videos from all over the world with people saying that they are praying for her and Ukraine,” he revealed to CNA. “From the U.S., from Mexico, South Africa, Norway, Poland and so on. I even got a video today made by a girl telling how she is praying for peace.”

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