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Pope accepts resignation of Philadelphia Ukrainian Catholic archbishop


WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy of the same archeparchy to be apostolic administrator.

Archbishop Soroka, 66, is resigning for medical reasons. Under church law a bishop is expected to submit his resignation to the pope at age 75. His resignation was accepted in accord with Canon 210 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which allows a bishop to resign before age 75 “due to ill health or to another serious reason.”

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Tens of thousands of people at funeral procession for Ukrainian cardinal


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Saying he was moved by reports of tens of thousands of people gathering for a funeral procession for Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who died May 31, Pope Francis sent a second message of condolence to the cardinal’s successor.

Mourners accompany the body of Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in a procession through the streets of Lviv June 3 before his body was returned to Kiev for his June 5 funeral Mass and burial. Cardinal Husar died May 31 at the age of 84. (CNS/Roman Baluk, Reuters)

Mourners accompany the body of Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in a procession through the streets of Lviv June 3 before his body was returned to Kiev for his June 5 funeral Mass and burial. Cardinal Husar died May 31 at the age of 84. (CNS/Roman Baluk, Reuters)

Being grateful for Cardinal Husar’s “unique, religious and social presence in the history of Ukraine, I invite all of you to be faithful to his constant teaching and total abandonment to providence,” the pope wrote June 5, the day of the cardinal’s funeral in Kiev and two days after the massive procession in Lviv.

“Continue to feel his smile and his caress,” Pope Francis wrote to Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.

Addressing the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church as “Beatitude,” the pope said he had been informed of “the extraordinary influx of people who came in these days to pay homage to the mortal remains of the cardinal.”

“This presence is an eloquent sign of who he was: one of the highest and most respected moral authorities of the Ukrainian people in recent decades,” the pope said.

Pope Francis, who knew Archbishop Shevchuk when both were bishops in Argentina, also offered his personal condolences to the archbishop “to comfort you in the loss of one who was a father and spiritual guide to you.”

Huge crowds gathered outside St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv, the one-time seat of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, for the funeral procession. They watched a video of the cardinal speaking about the church and faith, and then thousands of them set off through the streets of Cardinal Husar’s hometown, stopping occasionally for Bible readings, prayers and musical tributes.

With his coffin placed on an artillery gun carriage laden with flowers, the procession through Lviv last two hours. Government officials and representatives of other churches also joined the procession.

Pope Francis said he knew Cardinal Husar was a father for the entire Ukrainian Catholic Church and that he “gathered the inheritance of the ‘catacombs'” where the church was forced to live for four decades under communism.

The cardinal not only gave the church back many of its structures, but he gave it “especially the joy of its history founded on faith through and beyond every suffering.”

When old age and bad health led him to resign in 2011, the pope said, “his presence among the people changed style, but, if possible, became even more intense and richer.”

His reflections and talks, shared on television, the radio and through his blog, showed him to be a “master of wisdom. His speech was simple, understandable to all, but very profound,” the pope said. “His was the wisdom of the Gospel, it was the bread of the word of God broken for the simple, the suffering and for all those who were searching for dignity.”



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Church leader invites pope to Ukraine, says visit could bring peace


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church invited Pope Francis to visit the war-torn nation, saying it would help bring peace.

“It would be a prophetic gesture that would show the power of prayer and Christian solidarity, give us courage and hope and build a better future for everyone,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, prays during a Divine Liturgy for Ukrainian expatriates at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, prays during a Divine Liturgy for Ukrainian expatriates at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On behalf of Catholics, Orthodox Christians and “people of goodwill” in Ukraine, the archbishop personally invited the pope, telling journalists Feb. 23 that such a visit would “bring peace to that part of Eastern Europe soaked with the blood of so many martyrs for the unity of the church.”

The archbishop was in Rome following an “ad limina” visit Feb. 16-21 in which bishops from Ukraine’s Eastern- and Latin-rite traditions reported to the pope and the Vatican on the state of their dioceses.

Archbishop Shevchuk spoke to journalists about the bishops’ Feb. 20 meeting with Pope Francis.

He said the pope “truly listened to us with a paternal heart,” asking to hear about how the Ukrainian people, including their “Orthodox brothers and sisters,” were facing the current conflict and crisis.

After their closed-door talks with the pope, Archbishop Shevchuk said the “our bishops felt not only welcomed, but also encouraged and above all reaffirmed that we have taken the right position” during the recent turmoil in Ukraine, that is, the position of “being at the side of one’s people, having the smell of sheep, listening carefully to the voice of our people, this is what the Holy Father asks us to do.”

“Ukraine is the victim” in this war with Russia, and “often Ukrainians feel abandoned, betrayed by politicians, big diplomats by the powerful of this world.” But he said their meeting with the pope left them feeling that “the Holy Father is with us, he gives witness to us that God is always on the side of those who suffer,” he said. “We go home full of hope.”

In a written address that was handed out to the bishops, the pope them to focus on the social and human tragedies unfolding in their country and avoid politicizing their role as church leaders. He asked the bishops to work together and be a clear moral voice calling for peace and harmony as well as strong defenders of families, the poor and weak.

The pope assured the bishops of his prayers and concerns about the “serious conflict” in their nation and the numerous innocent victims and suffering it has caused.

“In this period, as I have assured you on many occasions directly and through cardinal envoys, I am particularly close to you with my prayer for the deceased and for all those affected by the violence, with prayer to the Lord that he may soon grant peace,” he said.

Pope Francis said he continues to appeal to “all sides concerned” to respect international law and carry out their agreements, especially a recent cease-fire deal.

“In these circumstances, what is important is to listen carefully to the voices that come from the places where the people who are entrusted to your pastoral care live” because it is by listening to one’s own flock that they will be able to help uphold the community’s values of “encounter, collaboration, the ability to settle controversies,” he wrote.

Archbishop Shevchuk said the path the pope was indicating was “right, to be at the side of your people and listen to the voice of the people,” and that it was the same approach the bishops have been taking the whole time by addressing social injustices and not supporting any political party.

When it came to ecumenical dialogue aimed at peace, he said it has been very difficult to get the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate to help advocate an end to the violence.

He said this has caused the many Russian Orthodox in Ukraine to question “how come these brothers of the same church, or as Pope Francis says, of the same baptism, come to our land to kill us?”

“If pastors are not able to listen to the voice of their flock and respect the sensitivity of their faithful, well, it becomes more difficult. If the church hierarchy takes the side of those with power against their own people, they lose their credibility,” he said.

The archbishop said the bishops’ visit to the pope and the Vatican Secretariat of State was an important opportunity to tell them “the truth” about the ongoing crisis: that it is not a civil war but “a foreign invasion, a war imposed on us from the outside.”

They told Vatican officials that some of the terms that had been used, for example, when the pope said Feb. 4 the conflict was a “fratricide,” a war between Christians baptized in the same faith, had been extremely painful to the people of Ukraine because it echoed the rhetoric in the Russian position on the conflict.

He said Christian values can be manipulated by Russian authorities “for political motives,” adding that no state policy or propaganda that “sacrifices millions of human beings for geopolitical aims respects Christian values.”

He said he told the pope how more than 2 million people have been displaced by the fighting, among them 140,000 children. He said more than 6,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed to date and another 12,500 people physically wounded.

“The pope was touched by these numbers,” especially by how many children are being affected.

Through Caritas Ukraine, the church is helping more than 40,000 people a day, he said. The people have opened their hearts to the church as a “stable point of reference” during so much confusion and misguidance, he said.

The church has become a true “field hospital” as so many people are suffering spiritually and psychologically from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic disorder, which has become as real a threat to human lives as “the Russian-built missiles,” he said.


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Ukrainian Catholic leader meets with pope after vote in Crimea


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church March 17, the day after pro-Russian voters on the Crimean peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum the United States and European Union called illegal.

A man waves a Russian flag as he celebrates the announcement of preliminary results of the Crimean referendum in Lenin Square in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 16. Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church March 17, the day after pro-Russian voters on the Crimean peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum the United States and European Union called illegal. (CNS photo/Sergei Karpukhin, Reuters)

While Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Eastern-rite church in Ukraine, declined requests for interviews, it was assumed his talk with the pope would include a discussion about the fate of the Ukrainian Catholic priests ministering in Crimea.

Ukrainian Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris, head of the Ukrainian church’s external relations department, issued a statement March 15 saying Father Mykola Kvych, pastor of the Dormition of the Mother of God Parish in Sevastopol, was taken from his church that morning, “seized by two men in uniform and four men in civilian clothing.”

Earlier in the week, Bishop Gudziak said, the church’s leadership had urged Father Kvych and the other priests in Crimea to evacuate their wives and children to mainland Ukraine.

“The priests themselves returned to their parishes to be with their faithful in a time of crisis and moral and physical danger,” he said.

Several hours after Father Kvych was taken from the church, the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s information service reported he had been freed after questioning, which apparently focused on accusations that he had been organizing anti-Russian riots.

The next day, however, parishioners helped him leave Crimea. He told the church information service that “several unknown individuals” continually rang the doorbell of his apartment, then tried to break in. When they left, he took the chalice and paten he uses for Divine Liturgies and some important documents and left the city.

Father Kvych also said that he spoke to the priests in Yalta and Yevpatoria, who were “now in a safe place. He didn’t mention where exactly,” the information service said.

Ukrainian Catholics make up about 10 percent of Crimea’s 2 million inhabitants; the majority of the people on the peninsula are ethnic Russians and speak Russian. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February and, in early March, Russian forces entered Crimea.

Crimean politicians said more than 96 percent of voters participating in the referendum March 16 voted to secede from Ukraine. Members of the Crimean Parliament March 17 formally asked to join the Russian Federation.


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Russia’s occupation of Crimea ‘is only the beginning,’ says Ukrainian bishop


Catholic News Service

A Ukrainian Catholic priest in Crimea said church members are alarmed and frightened by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities might be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent.

Father Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a pastor in Kerch, Ukraine, described the atmosphere as tense because many residents of the town located in the eastern part of Crimea were unsure of their future.

Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk in formation near a Ukrainian military base in Crimea March 7. A Ukrainian Catholic priest in Ukraine’s Crimea region said church members are “alarmed and frightened” by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities could be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent. (CNS photo/Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters)

“No one knows what will happen. Many people are trying to sell their homes and move to other parts of Ukraine,” Father Milchakovskyi told Catholic News Service March 12.

“Our church has no legal status in the Russian Federation, so it’s uncertain which laws will be applied if Crimea is annexed. We fear our churches will be confiscated and our clergy arrested,” the priest said amid tensions over a planned March 16 referendum on whether the autonomous territory should join Russia or remain in Ukraine.

Father Milchakovskyi said the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s leader, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, had pledged prayers and support if fellow-Catholics found themselves in danger.

However, he added that his church feared Russian rule would inflict a “new oppression” on Ukrainian Catholics, whose five communities traditionally make up about 10 percent of Crimean peninsula’s 2 million inhabitants.

“Many have already stopped coming to church, after being branded nationalists and fascists by local provocateurs,” Father Milchakovskyi said.

“The Orthodox have always insisted they’re dominant here and done everything to make life unpleasant for us. If they’re now given a free hand, we don’t know whether they’ll behave like Christians or follow the same unfriendly policy,” he said.

Under Soviet rule, from 1946 to 1989, the Eastern-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed. The strongest members lived their faith clandestinely, while others attended an Orthodox church or no church at all. The government confiscated all church property, giving some buildings to the Orthodox and putting other buildings to secular uses.

In January, Archbishop Shevchuk said Ukraine’s now-ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, had threatened to ban the Ukrainian Catholic Church because of its support for pro-Western opposition protests. However, Leonid Novokhatko, Ukraine’s former culture minister, denied that Yanukovych planned to ban the church.

Father Milchakovskyi said he had been allowed, as a military chaplain, to visit Catholics serving with the Ukrainian naval infantry in Kerch, after their base in the eastern port was blockaded by Russian-backed forces.

He reported that Russian troops were “controlling who and what gets through,” and said young recruits now lacked food and medicines.

“Everyone says the results of the referendum are already known, although many would vote to remain in Ukraine, or to retain Crimea’s autonomous status,” the priest said.

“The referendum will have no legal status, and we don’t even know who’ll conduct it and count the votes. But we’re deeply anxious it will be used as a pretext to act against us,” he added.

Two days earlier, in a separate CNS interview, Father Milchakovskyi said Catholics would likely not vote in the referendum.

“They say that It’s not legal. They will not take part in it and that it is just illegal,” he said using his wife, Alexandra, as an interpreter. Eastern clergy may be married prior to priestly ordination.

Ethnic Russians make up 58 percent of the Crimean population, with Ukrainians 24 percent and mostly Muslim Tartars about 12 percent.

In a March 12 statement on his diocesan website, Bishop Bronislaw Bernacki of Odessa-Simferopol criticized the international community for not taking action against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The world talks, criticizes Russia and does exactly what Putin expects, nothing,” said Bishop Bernacki.

He predicted the Crimea referendum, which has been rejected as illegal by most foreign governments, would “prove 80 percent support” for the region’s annexation by Russia and reflected a “wider policy by Putin,” as revealed in a 2008 military campaign against Georgia.

“Cutting off Crimea is only the beginning, it will then be time for Ukraine’s eastern and southern counties, and then perhaps the whole country,” the bishop said.

The president of Ukraine’s Latin-rite bishops’ conference, Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, told Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI, March 12 the bishops would hold their March 19-21 plenary in the eastern city of Kharkhov, “to be closer to those in greatest danger.”

News reports March 12 said unarmed groups of volunteers, with support from local authorities, were attempting to protect churches, mosques and cemeteries from looting and vandalism.

A day earlier, a bishop with Crimea’s Orthodox Church associated with the Kiev Patriarchate, which backs the new Ukrainian government, said several prominent pro-Western activists had disappeared. The statement said there was a “real danger to the lives of Ukrainians” in the territory.

Meanwhile, prices for fuel and food were rising fast, Father Milchakovskyi said.

“Our parishioners aren’t wealthy, and our clergy live in the same conditions, but we can’t request money or material help because we’ve no way of receiving them,” the priest said.

“We’re counting on the prayers of Christians abroad and also their moral support in protesting and making our problems known as widely as possible.”

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Pope asks prayers for Ukraine; archbishop says Ukraine in danger


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As uncertainty reigned in Ukraine and Russian troops appeared to have control of the Crimean peninsula, Pope Francis again asked the world’s Christians to pray for Ukraine and urged the parties involved in the conflict to engage in dialogue.

An Orthodox clergyman prays next to armed servicemen near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in Ukraine’s Crimean region March 1. The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said Ukrainians must be prepared “to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state.” (CNS photo/Baz Ratner, Reuters)

“I ask you again to pray for Ukraine, which is in a very delicate situation,” Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the midday recitation of the Angelus March 2.

“While I hope that all sectors of the country will endeavor to overcome misunderstandings and build the future of the nation together,” the pope said, “I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to support every initiative in favor of dialogue and harmony.”

After Russian troops entered Crimea, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, issued a statement March 1 saying, “Ukraine, unfortunately, has been pulled into a military conflict. So far no one is shooting, so far people are not dying, but it is obvious that military intervention has already begun.”

“Our people and our country are currently in danger,” the archbishop said. “We must stand up for our country, to be ready, if necessary, to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state,” he said in the statement distributed by the Catholic magazine Credo.

In Ukraine, March 2 was “Forgiveness Sunday” for Eastern Catholics and members of the Orthodox churches; Lent began March 3 for Catholics and Orthodox who follow the Byzantine tradition.

Addressing members of the church in a pastoral letter for Lent, Archbishop Shevchuk and members of the church’s permanent synod said Ukrainians “enter into the great fast this year with feelings of pain, fear, suffering and trembling hope.”

Months of protests sparked by a government decision to reverse a process of closer cooperation with Europe erupted in bloodshed in late February and led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. After an interim leader was appointed in Ukraine, the Russian government began what it called military exercises along the countries’ shared border and sent troops into Crimea.

In their Lenten letter, Archbishop Shevchuk and members of his synod called on Catholics to use the 40 days of Lent as a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to grow closer to God and to one’s neighbors. Lent, they said, is a time to convert from sin, suspicion and hatred and take responsibility together for the future of the country.


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Ukrainian archbishop sees lingering threat of war, but signs of hope


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The three months of protests in Ukraine that ended with government snipers killing dozens of people strengthened the commitment to democracy of many Ukrainians, but also left the country vulnerable to further violence and division, said the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, speaks Feb. 25 during a Rome news conference on the recent events in the Ukrainian capital. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

“The danger that our neighbor (Russia) will provoke a civil war has not passed,” Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych told reporters in Rome Feb. 25, adding that the protests have solidified the Ukrainian people’s commitment to independence, freedom and democracy.

Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in England, told Catholic News Service, “Our church stayed with the people as the struggle widened from a political one over integration with Europe into a larger one for basic human rights and dignity.

“We hope the Russians won’t try to meddle, since this would create a situation even worse than before. Having once seemed immutable, conditions have suddenly changed — and although dangers still lurk ahead, solutions must be worked out by Ukrainians.”

Snipers opened fire on protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square Feb. 19, killing at least 70 people. President Viktor Yanukovich, who sparked the protests by deciding not to sign an agreement with the European Union but forge closer ties with Russia, left Ukraine’s capital Feb. 21, and the country’s parliament voted to remove him from office the same day.

“Yanukovich saw his support melting away like the snow when the sun comes out,” Archbishop Shevchuk told reporters at the Vatican. “The security forces disappeared and so did the president.”

The archbishop described himself “as an eyewitness” to the protests and insisted it was untrue that the protesters were “extreme nationalists.” At first, he said, they were students who dreamed of living in a “free, democratic and European” Ukraine.

When the government tried to use force to end the protest in December, he said, people from all walks of life started joining the students to say, “No to corruption, no to dictatorship, no to the denial of human dignity,” and yes to citizens’ right to decide the future of their country.

Throughout the protest, the archbishop said, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations supported the protesters’ objectives, pleaded for them to remain peaceful and tried to mediate between them and the government. The council, he said, includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim representatives.

Ukraine is diverse, he said. Regions in the East tend to have more people who are Russian speakers or ethnic Russians and belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ukrainian speakers are concentrated in the West, as are the members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The diversity, he said, is natural for any large country. Each region has its own history, “but all of the people saw themselves as Ukrainians.”

Those seeking power, however, see the diversity as something to exploit for their own purposes, he said, which is why the council of churches issued an appeal for unity and has clearly defined as “morally unacceptable” and “a crime” the attempt to use religious or cultural differences for political gain.

Archbishop Shevchuk said there is “no desire within Ukraine” to split the country, “but maybe someone from outside, seeing that he can’t eat the whole pie, would want at least part of it.”

The evening before he met the press, Archbishop Shevchuk and Ukrainians working in Rome joined the Sant’Egidio Community for a prayer service for peace. In a packed Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, tears flowed as the archbishop led the singing of the Lord’s Prayer in Ukrainian.

The lay Sant’Egidio Community, known for its promotion of interreligious dialogue and peace mediation, also runs Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew, which serves as a shrine to the martyrs of Nazism and 20th-century communist dictatorships. The basilica’s side altars are filled with the personal belongings of people killed for their faith, including Ukrainian Catholics martyred after their church was outlawed in 1946.

Archbishop Shevchuk said the last time he was with Sant’Egidio members was “to give you our treasures, relics of our martyrs. Never would I have guessed that there would be new martyrs.”

All the churches of Ukraine supported the protesters, even setting up chapel tents and leading morning prayer services, he said. Church buildings near Independence Square were turned into first aid stations and, once the shooting began, into operating rooms.

“Before leaving Kiev, I went to visit the clandestine hospitals,” he said. “In the Lutheran church, where at least 10 injured were receiving care, I thanked the pastor. He said, ‘No, don’t thank us. It is Christ we are caring for.’”

“Right now we have thousands of injured” and neighboring countries have offered to take those with the most serious physical injuries. “But there are also wounded hearts and souls,” he said, and their healing will require prayers and the services of the churches.

Contributing to this story was Jonathan Luxmoore in Oxford, England.


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Pope prays for peace in Ukraine, bishops offer to mediate


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As protests against the Ukrainian president spread to cities across the country, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the nation’s people, “particularly for those who lost their lives in the last few days and for their families.”

At least three protesters died Jan. 22 in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital and the site of anti-government protests since late November.

Pro-European Union protesters pray during a rally on Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, early Jan. 16. Since then violent clashes have escalated between police and the demonstrators, who seek stronger ties with Western Europe. The growing violence prompted the U.S. Ukrainian Catholic bishops to issue a statement Jan. 23 supporting the church in Ukraine “in this time of duress.” (CNS photo/Reuters)

Speaking after reciting the Angelus Jan. 26 with visitors in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said, “I hope there would develop a constructive dialogue between the institutions and civil society and, avoiding any recourse to violent actions, a spirit of peace and search for the common good would prevail in the hearts of all.”

According to news reports, the main demonstration in Kiev’s Independence Square, calling for closer ties to Europe, an end to government corruption and greater respect for human rights, has remained nonviolent. But small groups of other protesters have been throwing rocks and firebombs at police and have occupied several government buildings in Kiev and other cities.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and the leaders of other churches and religious groups met embattled President Viktor Yanukovich Jan. 24 and offered to mediate in the name of peace.

The church-run Religious Information Service of Ukraine said Archbishop Shevchuk told the president that while they were pressing for peace and the continued unity of Ukraine, “we are, have been, and will be with the people.”

The archbishop and other religious leaders insisted their clergy have a right and duty to minister to the protesters, a service he said also contributes to keeping the demonstrations peaceful.


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Ukrainian church leaders condemn police violence against protesters


KIEV, Ukraine — The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and other Catholic leaders condemned police violence against “peaceful demonstrations” after President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to seek closer ties with the European Union.

A man throws a flare in the direction of Interior Ministry members during a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 1. The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church condemned police violence against “peaceful demonstrations” after President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to seek closer ties with the EU. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, also spoke of preventing an “escalation of violence, which could lead to even more tragic consequences.”

“We must not respond to violence with violence and evil with evil,” he said.

Demonstrators barricaded Kiev’s Independence Square and urged a general strike to protest the president’s withdrawal from an EU association agreement, which was to have been signed at a Nov. 28-29 summit in Lithuania.

Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Organizations also urged citizens to remember “violence begets violence.”

“Law enforcement agencies need to protect public order and promote the constitutional right to peaceful assembly and expression,” the council said in a Nov. 27 statement.

“Radicalization of these protests can only harm the people and national interests of Ukraine. In a civilized society like Ukraine, we must learn to express different views on social issues in a peaceful manner and through dialogue,” the council said.

Protesters blockaded the Cabinet office and other official buildings in the capital Dec. 2, demanding the resignation of Yanukovich and his prime minister, Mykola Azarov.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian newspapers reported police reinforcements were being sent to Kiev after weekend street clashes left at least 100 police and 165 opposition supporters injured.

In a Nov. 30 statement, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Archbishop Shevchuk’s predecessor, criticized the president for backtracking on the agreement, which is strongly opposed by neighboring Russia. However, the cardinal said “people power” required “peaceful, coherent, joint activities,” rather than violence.

Ukraine’s Catholic University accused the government of “sending hired thugs” to “fuel a body confrontation” Dec. 1 in front of Kiev’s presidential palace, but warned protesters against revenge, “no matter how strong the motivation is.”

“The consequences of the actions of both sides are the same: an encroachment on peaceful protests by a million people throughout Ukraine,” the Lviv-based university said in a Dec. 2 statement. “The present time does not require an elite which cynically robs the people, nor seekers of revenge wishing harm to their enemies, but people willing to serve by establishing peace, harmony and prosperity.”

The association agreement, establishing a Ukraine-EU free-trade zone, was approved in September by the government, which pledged Ukraine would meet required “standards of democracy and human rights.”


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