(Vatican Radio) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, held a press conference on Monday to share details of the ad limina visits that all Ukrainian bishops have been making to the Vatican this past week.
As well as denouncing the occupation of his country by Russian forces, the Ukrainian leader appealed to all Christians to help with the worsening humanitarian crisis which has been provoked by the conflict, as Philippa Hitchen reports…
Ukraine’s Catholic bishops came to tell Pope Francis and other Vatican officials that their country is the victim of Russian military aggression which has caused huge suffering to all sectors of society. While some parts of the media describe the conflict as 'a civil war' and even the Pope himself spoke recently of a 'fratricidal conflict', Archbishop Shevchuk said these words do not accurately represent the reality that is unfolding in his country today.
“Ukraine is under the direct aggression and invasion of a neighbouring country, we’re a victim of that and we expect the whole Christian world to take our side…."
Up to 6.000 civilians have been killed in the fighting between Russian troops and Ukrainian government forces in the east of the country, with thousands more injured and over a million people displaced by the conflict and dependent on humanitarian aid. The archbishop said every day over 40,000 people receive assistance from churches or Caritas centres which have opened their doors to those most in need.
The Ukrainian Church leader is calling on Vatican diplomats and others in positions of authority to support victims and help bring an end to the crisis. He said he’s invited the Pope to come to his country and do everything in his power to try and stop the fighting:
“Our hope is that his voice, as a powerful moral authority, will help. What that means technically, I don’t know…maybe Holy See or European diplomats can bring some suggestions, but for us it's so important that the moral authority of the Holy Father will defend those under threat in Ukraine"
Regarding religious relations in the country, Archbishop Shevchuk said the Russian Orthodox Church has become a “powerful weapon” in the Russian propaganda war, making any kind of dialogue with Moscow very difficult indeed:
“Last year was a big effort to establish a dialogue, to be heard by the Moscow Patriarchate, but we got only silence….but we still hope that silence is not the final response, we still do our best to open the dialogue, to convey that we are their friends, we’re not against Russia itself or the Russian Orthodox Church, we just want to be good neighbours…”
The Archbishop praised the efforts of the World Council of Churches which is offering to mediate between the two sides, an initiative which he says may bring a glimmer of hope on a very dark horizon. And he says, at the end of their ad limina visits, the bishops are returning home moved and encouraged by the support that Pope Francis offered to them and to all their suffering people:
“ We were surprised and moved to hear the Pope say ‘I’m shoulder to shoulder with you, I’m at your service’ and we were moved by that paternal reception”
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