Ukrainian soldiers march along a street during a rehearsal for the Independence Day parade in Kiev Aug. 20. The parade will take place Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
Ukrainian soldiers march along a street during a rehearsal for the Independence Day parade in Kiev Aug. 20. The parade will take place Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Ukrainians prepared to mark their Aug. 24 Independence Day under the cloud of fierce fighting in the East, Catholic leaders condemned the threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and prayed for a speedy end to the hostilities.

At the same time, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, issued a rebuttal to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow’s claims that that the Ukrainian Catholic Church and its priests were fomenting hatred and violence against believers who belong to the Orthodox Church affiliated with Moscow.

Patriarch Kirill had made the claims in an Aug. 14 letter to the patriarchs and heads of Orthodox churches around the world and in a similar letter Aug. 18 to the United Nations, the European Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In reply, Archbishop Shevchuk wrote Aug. 21 to the world’s Catholic bishops’ conferences and global political leaders saying the fighting in eastern Ukraine was the result of “foreign-supported destabilization, separatism and terrorist activity.”

“The tragedy that Ukraine is experiencing today, due to military aggression, is a tragedy for all peoples, believers of all faiths and all social groups,” he said. “Buildings, churches and monasteries of all religious and ethnic groups are being damaged or destroyed.”

In Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, and in the eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists, he said, “some of the churches and religious communities have been targeted for discrimination, enduring outright violence.”

Muslim Tartars are most at risk, he said, but Ukrainian Catholics, Latin-rite Catholics, Jewish communities and members of the independent Orthodox Church have “been menaced.”

All those communities, Archbishop Shevchuk said, “are further endangered by the rhetoric of the Orthodox leadership in Russia, which is becoming increasingly similar to the propaganda of Russian political authorities and leadership.”

“Russian Orthodox leaders spread libelous information about Greek Catholics and other confessions, thereby putting them in danger from the separatist militants who identify themselves as warriors for Russian Orthodoxy,” the archbishop said.

A Ukrainian woman weeps after being reunited with her son at the Russia-Ukraine border in Russia's Rostov region Aug. 22. Ukrainians mark Independence Day Aug. 24 amid ongoing tensions in the East. (CNS photo/Alexander Demianchuk, Reuters)
A Ukrainian woman weeps after being reunited with her son at the Russia-Ukraine border in Russia’s Rostov region Aug. 22. Ukrainians mark Independence Day Aug. 24 amid ongoing tensions in the East. (CNS photo/Alexander Demianchuk, Reuters)

In preparation for Independence Day commemorations, both Archbishop Shevchuk and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, president of the Latin-rite bishops’ conference, released statements urging their people to pray for peace and stability in their country.

Archbishop Mokrzycki described the situation, 23 years after independence from the Soviet Union, as an emergency provoked by a “lack of understanding and agreement among Ukrainians” and “encroachment” by neighboring Russia.

He urged Catholics to pray, through the intercession of Mary Queen of Peace, “that all who influence the fate of Ukraine, including us, would open the door of our hearts to know the truth that can free us from the snares of evil and lead to a happy life.”

Archbishop Shevchuk’s message, which was to be read at parishes Aug. 24, insisted on the right of Ukrainians to live in peace and security in their own country.

“In these most difficult times,” he said, Ukrainians have responsibility “for the preservation and strengthening of the gift of freedom” for which their elders and ancestors struggled for so long, including at the cost of their lives.

Celebrating Ukraine’s independence, he said, “let us pray to the Lord for peace in Ukraine” and the protection of its peoples, begging God to “stop the bloodshed, grief and tears in our land.”

Related:

Pope marks Ukrainian Independence Day, prays for peace (Catholic News Service)

The archbishop also prayed that all citizens would “see the image of the suffering Christ in all those who have lost their homes or been forced to leave their land” and in all those who have been wounded or captured.

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service.

Catholic News Service, serving since 1920 as a news agency specializing in reporting religion, is the primary source of national and world news that appears in the U.S. Catholic press. It is also a leading source of news for Catholic print and broadcast media throughout the world.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am a little shocked, and disappointed, that the good Archbishop Shevchuk, a man I greatly admire, should be able to say with straight face that the troubles in Ukraine are the result of “foreign-supported destabilization, separatism and terrorist activity.” If he was referring to the USA and the EU who backed, financed and organized the coup in Kiev and thus helped to establish a government that will work to get sodomy and the depredations of foreign oligarchs installed in Ukraine, then I understand his remark. Alas, it seems he is referring to Russia and for that reason I am stunned at his statement.

    That the USA is provoking a war with Russia by surrounding that country with US puppet regimes and bringing offensive weapons right onto the doorstep of Russia is so obvious that I simply cannot understand the Archbishop’s statements at all. It is true that certain Orthodox churchmen have made some ill-informed statements that have caused great hurt. But for Archbishop Shevchuk to act as if he were an emissary of the billionaire oligarchs who are now descending upon Ukraine to loot her shows me that either he is clueless about world events – even in his own country – or he is allowing his emotions to rule over his common sense.

    As I said I admire this man greatly. But his recent statements display a very troubling aspect to him that I had not seen before. Like others I detest this US-created violence and murder going on in Ukraine and wish these monsters would leave that country alone. But it is not to be when billions are to be made by oligarchs who will loot the country, sell off its industries to their foreign friends, and introduce sodomy as yet another means to demoralize the population. I hope the Archbishop is thinking about these things.

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