Leader of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Reminds War in Ukraine Is “Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe” Since WWII

January 26, 2018Deborah Castellano LubovInterviews

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Zenit.org - In the days ahead of the Pope’s visit to Rome’s Greek-Catholic Community of Ukrainians on Sunday, the head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halyc, says he is very grateful for the Holy See’s attention given to Ukraine, but still not satisfied with the declaration signed by Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill in Cuba two years ago.

In an interview with ZENIT, His Beatitude Shevchuk discussed the historic gesture.

Four years ago, he said, Ukraine suffered the aggression of a neighboring country, Russia. According to UN agencies today in Ukraine there are 2 million internally displaced persons. It is a crisis that continues and escalates. These statistics demonstrate the most serious humanitarian crisis in Europe after the Second World War. In spite of this, it is a ‘forgotten war,’ as was said by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, during his visit to Russia last August.

The Pope’s visit Sunday to the Basilica of St. Sophia on Via Boccea, northwest of Rome. will be followed by Ukrainians all over the world. Although it is not technically a parish, it will be the first ‘parish visit,’ if you will, by Pope Francis since the start of the New Year.

Pope St John Paul II visited St. Sophia in Rome in 1984, to pay homage to the tomb of Cardinal Josyp Slipyi, the Head of the Greek Catholic Community of Ukraine who was harshly persecuted under the Soviet regime, including 18 years in prison, before eventually being freed. Blessed Pope Paul VI was there, previously in 1969, for the consecration of the Basilica, the initiative of Cardinal Slipyi.

The Pope will arrive at 4 p.m. and about 3,000 people are expected. There will be jumbotrons outside the church transmitting coverage to the faithful unable to be inside. For Greek-Catholic Ukrainians, following the Julian calendar, it is still Christmastime, since the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is February 18. Therefore, Major Archbishop Shevchuk said we should not be surprised to hear Ukrainian Christmas songs welcoming the Supreme Pontiff.

During the encounter, the Major Archbishop of Kiev will present the community to the Pope, there will be some greetings, and the Pope will descend into the crypt to pray at the tomb of Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Czmil. Then, before returning to the Vatican, he will see the mosaics of the basilica. With January 22 marking the 40th Anniversary of the bishop’s passing, Bishop Czmil was sent as a missionary in 1948 to Buenos Aires and would teach at the Salesian school that young Jorge Bergoglio attended. Through him, one of his first educators, Bergoglio would be introduced to the Byzantine rite and get to know the Greek Catholic Community of Ukraine.

Discussing the current situation in Ukraine and how so many have been forced to flee, the Major Archbishop of Kiev noted that the Pope knows us and is very sensitive to the theme of migration. Stressing the big heart Francis has for mothers and grandmothers, he added, the Pope will see that many who find themselves in St. Sophia are women.

On a lighthearted note, the Major Archbishop spoke about the vitality of the Greek-Catholic Community of Ukrainians in Rome. He shared about the enthusiastic children who partake, some of whom will welcome the Pope Sunday, and how often Ukrainians bring elderly Italians with them to the Masses, and that already, they know some of the Ukrainian hymns. In Italy, Ukrainian women often take care of the elderly.

During an encounter with journalists in the Vatican, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk was asked whether a possible trip to Ukraine is foreseeable. He responded: “We have made the invitation, we hope it will be a prophetic step, which can guide the Pope’s steps towards Ukraine. The Pope has already been invited to the Ukraine by both the Latin and Greek-Catholic bishops and by the Ukrainian President and government.

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