(Vatican Radio) While in Rome for the preparatory commission for October’s Synod of the Family, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk spoke to Vatican Radio about the situation in his country. A complete transcription is provided below.
Click to listen to Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk’s interview:
During the interview the Major Archbishop spoke about the ongoing fighting in the region, the growing refugee crisis (2 million at present), how the Church is providing support to those affected by the conflict and the importance of maintaining a presence as the conflict continues.
Transcript of the interview between Philippa Hitchen and the Major Archbishop of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: Despite so-called Minsk agreement of ceasefire, that never happened in that place. Each day we receive news about new killed, people new wounded, not only soldiers, but even civilians. So many people are in danger. The number of those who are forced to leave their homes is increasing. Right now there are almost two million of displaced persons who had to flee from their homes. In that territory of Donbass, which is under occupation of the Russian troops, each day receive news of incoming of heavy weapons. What strikes me personally, that in last few months, more than seven hundred tanks entered tanks entered in that territory. My question is “Why”? If we agreed to ceasefire, if we agreed to start a political process, if we are in favour of saving human beings in that territory, why somebody is investing in war? We have a fact of the most difficult humanitarian catastrophe after the end of the Second World War in the Eastern Europe. Why we would not invest in saving human lives?
Philippa Hitchen: What are you trying to do there for your Greek Catholic people? How many priests do you still have there, and how are you trying to support them in this extremely difficult situation?
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: First of all, on that occupied territory, we have twelve parishes. It was a period when our priests were forced to leave that territory. But step by step we came back, even if our priests are in constant danger, direct threat against their lives. In the city of Donestk, we have three priests and three parishes, Greek Catholics, at the moment there are not any of the Roman Catholic priests, and it was a very touching moment that in the Feast of Easter, Greek Catholic priests were serving both the Roman Catholics and to the Greek Catholics as well, in both calendars. But in other parishes we do not have a possibility to have a pastoral assistance for our priests. Because on that occupied territory, there is no local authority which takes responsibility for the security of the people. That territory is fragmented between different bands, who are in constant fight against each other. So travelling in that territory is getting extremely difficult. My question was “Why those so-called military leaders on that territory are tolerating the presence of our priests?” And my answer is because they are very active in saving lives. They are going back and forth crossing the front line, bringing food. Many people simply are dying not because of the bullets, not because of the bombs, but because of the lack of food. So I think our presence on that territory brings hope to those people. We are trying to be there in order to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. To be with our people.
Philippa Hitchen: You also have a number of priests in the military chaplaincy, don’t you? Who are in extreme danger, you are caught in the crossfire.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: In that territory which is under control of the Ukrainian government, we are trying to develop kinds of chaplaincies and presence of the Church according to the necessities, for those who are in danger or in need. We are developing many different programs to assist the refugees, many programs to assist the Ukrainian soldiers, we as a Church we never would ask or provide some sort of weapons, but we do have to provide some sort of protection vestments for the soldiers, because Ukrainian army is in its period of rebirth and there is a lack of elementary things in order to be able to defend our country. It is why we are trying to support our soldiers and to provide to them, even the spiritual care. Our chaplains, right now are present in almost whole front line, everywhere, especially in the most dangerous places. But we see our presence there as an encouragement and a help to save human lives, to prevent the escalation of anger and hatred, and also to help our soldiers to remain Christians, even in those unhuman situations. It is very interesting to listen to those chaplains, who are giving assistance not only to the soldiers, but even to their relatives. Right now, whole Ukrainian society, the soldier and civilians in that zone are affected by so-called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and we are trying to, through the presence of our priests, to help, even to prevent and treat that kind of stress disorder. Which can be very dangerous, which can be a cause of many deaths afterwards.
Philippa Hitchen: You mentioned the more than two million refugees, who have fled the fighting there, how much are you able to support this extremely needy population.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: The Ukrainian Caritas, is the biggest humanitarian aid association in Ukraine after the Red Cross. So we are assisting refugees in different ways. Almost 50,000 people are under the direct assistance of Caritas through different programs. We are providing assistance, not only in that territory which is close to Donbass, but we are also developing our programs of welcome of those refugees and persons in whole territory of Ukraine, especially where we have our communities. Because many of those refugees, are present in the territory just nearby the front line. Many of them are present in the southern Ukraine, especially those from Crimea. Many of them are present in the capital of Ukraine, in Kiev. Some of them are trying to integrate their families in different parts of Ukraine, especially in western Ukraine. It depends where they are and what kind of needs do they have. We are trying to develop pastoral programs, and programs of assistance to those people.
Philippa Hitchen: What are the most urgent practical needs?
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: First of all, the needs are much bigger than our possibilities, but even the Ukrainian state in the present moment, is not able to assist those people in the way which they are in real need. There are some primary needs, first a place to stay, so homes, then we have to provide for them medical care and psychological and spiritual assistance, we have to help them to find a job and to integrate into Ukrainian society as well, the economic crisis which also affects Ukraine right now, does not help at all. We have to provide a special assistance to the children, because they have to go to school somewhere, and also we have to create some sort of network in order to study the needs and urgent appeals. But most important thing is not to forget those people. Pray for them and we are very grateful that really the Catholic solidarity, worldwide, right now is very efficient. And I would take this possibility to transmit our gratitude to everybody who is helping Ukraine, spiritually, financially, through the organisation of Caritas Internationalis and in the other ways. Those people are praying for you in Ukraine each day.
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