It's a conflict that's been raging in Ukraine for two years, costing thousands of lives and displacing millions of people. But the international community seems to have largely forgotten about it.
ugcc.ua - In Ukraine we do not have the Russian Orthodox Church, we have the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchate, and that Church is also trying to help those who are in need. Of course that Church is experiencing some internal tensions concerning the Russian aggression, because those soldiers who are killing Ukrainians, the majority of them belong to the same Church. So the question is why members of the same Church are killing their brothers and sisters on the soil of Ukraine. This is a big question. But nevertheless in Ukraine we’re trying to cooperate with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, we are trying to respect the sensibility of Orthodox believers, and to help each other. I think we are discovering that there are many more things and issues which unite us than which divide us. If we would abandon politics, if we would look into the eyes of those people to whom we are supposed to serve, we will rediscover the living Christ present among us, our God, which is the same for Catholic and Orthodox, the same God for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Our Lord who is asking us to love our neighbor.
So would you say that efforts for collaboration are stronger than whatever tensions might exist?
I have to bring the witness that our people in the very, very, basic foundation of the Church, are more united that the Church hierarchs are, and they are asking us to follow them. Those very profound questions – why do we suffer? Do we have hope? Does our sacrifice have any meaning? – are the same questions (all) people are asking; Orthodox, priests, bishops, Catholics, Muslims and Jews, and I think if we will be honest and faithful to our own vocation we will give the same response to those people. In that service, we are and will be united.
Speaking of relations between Church hierarchs, what is your opinion on the Pope’s meeting with Patriarch Kirill in February?
I think it was a historical meeting. We are very thankful to God that it finally happened, because for decades we as Ukrainian Greek Catholics were called an obstacle for that meeting. Thanks be to God that now we are not an obstacle for such brotherly relationships and meetings. I think that the Holy Father is opening a new page in the history of relationships between Catholics and Orthodox. But in order to cooperate, in order to develop our brotherly relationships we cannot put any conditions. The main discussion in Ukraine, (in terms of) some sort of ‘conditions,’ were some points of the joint declaration that was signed. But the Holy Father, many times when I had the chance to talk to him, underlined that for him the most important (thing) is a person and not a paper, a meeting and not a declaration, cooperation and not some theoretical thinking, some philosophical statements, because that theory would come and go, a declaration would be forgotten, but the gesture of open arms will remain.
You have known the Pope since his time in Argentina. He seemed to have had great success in uniting people from different religions and backgrounds in that context. Do you think he’s using the same strategy as then, but in perhaps a broader scale as Pope?
I have to say he is the same person as he was in Buenos Aires. He’s the same as the Successor of Peter in Rome, and his policy is almost the same, because he’s trying to really break all those divisions, all those prejudices against brothers and sisters. I think really that he’s under the motion of the Holy Spirit, which brings him to appreciate the dignity of the human person regardless of what confession, Church or political background that person comes from. I think this is how we Christians are supposed to bring our witness to Christ in the future, and I think in that motion of the Holy Spirit we can build unity. The unity of the Church, the unity of the human race. I remember the words of St. Pope John Paul II, that a united Europe can be united only in Christ. And I think the Holy Father Francis is simply going forward on the same path.
Would say that so far his strategy is working?
On the theme of dialogue, another historic meeting is coming up in June, the Pan Orthodox Council. What are your thoughts on this, considering your presence in a majority Orthodox country?
I wrote a letter to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and to the members of the Pan Orthodox Council assuring our prayer, because the challenges which Christianity is facing today are common, for Orthodox and for Catholics. As I said previously, there are many more things which unite us than divide us. The biggest scandal for our world is a division between Christians. So my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will help our brethren Orthodox to be united their efforts in order to remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in today’s globalized culture. Our prayer is that openness to dialogue with modern culture, and to dialogue with brethren Christians who are maybe not a member of the Orthodox communion, will be a topic of their discussions. Because we can face those challenges only if we will be in dialogue with God and today’s world, if we will be able to love God and our neighbor. We cannot love our neighbor without entering into dialogue with him. We cannot bring our witness to today’s humanity without the spirit of love. Love brings that openness, that freshness, that vibrancy to the Church. This is my prayer and my wish for the Pan Orthodox Council, which I expressed in my letter.
Will any representatives of the Greek Catholic Church be observing? Yourself or anyone else?
No. As I understand, the observers from the Catholic side, particularly from the Greek Catholic side, were not invited to the council. But we respect their sensibilities and wishes, and nevertheless we will support (and) we will be united with the Orthodox hierarchs in prayer and in the Holy Spirit.
While this is a council specific to the Orthodox Churches, which of the discussion topics would be most pertinent from a Catholic standpoint? Issues such as the unification of liturgical calendars, for example…
Well, those topics mostly are inner issues of the Orthodox community, so this is why we are not entering into the discussion or arguing with the Orthodox brethren. Any kind of growing in unity among the Orthodox would be helpful for our dialogue, because some sort of divisions between the Orthodox Churches hurts the possibility to have an open and successful dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics. Perhaps in Ukraine, we have three Orthodox Churches, and we pray someday at least the Orthodox in Ukraine will be united among them. It will facilitate our dialogue the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The same in the worldwide perspective. More unity among the Orthodox will bring more unity among all Christians.
One final question. Is there any news on the Pope coming to Ukraine?
But Cardinal Parolin is coming in June…
Yes, His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parloin, the Secretary of State of Vatican City announced that he is coming. Right now we are preparing his visit, discussion his program in Ukraine, and we hope that he will announce everything that we should know about a possible visit of the Holy Father and the humanitarian action of His Holiness in order to help those who are suffering in Ukraine.
By Elise Harris, CNA