2014-12-13 12:39:00

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church faces possible ban 25 years after legalization

(Vatican Radio) Twenty-five years after its legalization in the former Soviet Union, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church says his Church is faced once again with the possibility of being outlawed in parts of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church marked the 25th anniversary of its legalization this past week. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna was in Kiev on Wednesday for the celebration.

But in an interview with Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk remarked on the recent developments in Crimea regarding his Church. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March after an unconstitutional referendum is not recognized by international law.

“The local so-called authorities issued a special law, which obliged each religious community to renew its registration and perhaps for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church it is very difficult to get a new registration,” said Archbishop Shevchuk. “That means that starting in January 2015, we simply will be (outside) the law.”

“It is some sort of irony because we are celebrating 25 years of our legalization in the former Soviet Union but right now in some parts of Ukraine, we will lose the legal right to exist,” he continued.

Listen to Archbishop Shevchuk’s remarks:

Archbishop Shevchuk said the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, caused by the eight-month conflict between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian troops, is “very, very difficult  because more or less 5 million people in that region are affected by war, hunger and right now... cold.”

To date, more than 4,000 people have been killed in the fighting. In the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, where the conflict is rife, only three Catholic priests remain—two Greek Catholic and one Roman Catholic, he said.

“We are trying to be present in that territory so our priests are with our people,” he stated. “We are trying to provide some sort of humanitarian help through the Caritas organizations.”

The archbishop called for greater efforts from the Orthodox Churches to help bring peace to the region and between Ukraine and Russia.

“I believe, and this is I would say a hope for Ukraine and for Russia, that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate can do a lot more for the reconciliation of our two countries,” he said. “They can do a lot more in order to stop bloodshed and war in eastern Ukraine.”

In response to a separate question, Archbishop Shevchuk reflected on the role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in serving as a bridge between East and West.

“We are trying to be the mediators and it is the image of our own mission as the Eastern Catholic Church, which is both in communion with the Holy Father, with Western Christianity, but embodies the Eastern Christian spirituality, liturgical, theological tradition,” he said. “And because of that,… we can be good mediators to help to discover the East for the West and discover the West for the East.”

The archbishop also remarked on the significant growth experienced in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the past 25 years, since the Church came out from the underground.

“The Church which went out of the catacombs had more or less 300 priests and the average age was 60 years old,” he said. “But right now, we have more than 3,000 priests and the average (age) is 35 years. I am, as the head of the Church, I’m 44 years old. And this is just very concrete signs of the vibrancy and today’s situation, and it is a miracle.”

The interview with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk was conducted by Kathpress and made available to Vatican Radio. 

Article by Laura Ieraci

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