Vatican City, 20 February 2015 (VIS) – “I welcome you to this house, which is also yours. And you are well aware of this, as the Successor of Peter has always welcomed his brothers from Ukraine with fraternal friendship”, begins the Pope’s written discourse to the bishops of the Ukrainian Episcopal Conference, at the end of their “ad Limina” visit. The encounter takes place in the context of a serious and prolonged conflict within the country, which “continues to claim many innocent victims and to cause great suffering to the entire population”.
The Pope met with the bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the bishop of Mukachevo of Byzantine rite, and the bishops of the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in separate audiences in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace. The signed discourse was handed to the representatives of each the three Ukrainian ecclesiastical jurisdictions.
“In this period”, continues Francis, “I am particularly close to you in my prayers for the deceased and for all those who have been afflicted by violence, with my plea that the Lord might grant peace soon, and with my appeal to all interested parties to implement joint agreements and to respect the principle of international law, and especially to observe the recently signed armistice and all other commitments that are conditions for avoiding a resumption of hostilities”.
“I know the historical events that have scarred your land and which are still present in your collective memory. These are issues that in part have a political basis, to which you are not required to respond directly; but there are also socio-cultural realities and human tragedies that await your direct and positive contribution. In such circumstances, it is important to listen attentively to the voices that come from the land, from the people entrusted to your pastoral care. Listening to your people, you are able to solicit those values that characterise them: encounter, collaboration, the capacity to resolve disagreements. In short: the search for a possible peace. You are able to nurture this ethical heritage with charity, the divine love that stems from the heart of Christ”.
The Holy Father acknowledges that, “at local level, there are specific and practical agreements between you, heirs to two legitimate spiritual traditions – Oriental and Latin – as well as the other Christians among you. This, as well as a duty, is also an honour that must be recognised”. He also reiterates that the bishops, at national level, are full citizens of their country and therefore have the right to express their thought, also jointly, regarding its destiny, “not in the sense of promoting concrete political action, but in the indication and reaffirmation of the values that constitute the binding element of Ukrainian society, persevering in the tireless search for harmony and the common good, even when faced with serious and complex difficulties”. He emphasises, “The Holy See is by your side, also in international forums, to ensure that your rights, concerns and the right Gospel values that inspire you are understood, and seeks also to help meet the pastoral needs of those ecclesiastical structures that also find themselves having to face new legal questions”.
The crisis unfolding in Ukraine has undoubtedly had “serious repercussions on family life. United with this is a misunderstood sense of economic freedom that has enabled a small group of people to become enormously rich at the expense of the great majority of citizens. The presence of this phenomenon has also contaminated public institutions, to varying degrees. It has generated an inequitable poverty in a generous and rich land”. Therefore, the Pope exhorts the bishops to tirelessly remind their fellow citizens of “the considerations that faith and pastoral responsibility suggest to you. The meaning of justice and truth is first moral rather than political, and this is incumbent upon you as pastors. How much freer you will be as ministers of Christ’s Church, as, in spite of your poverty, you become defenders of families, of the poor, of the unemployed, of the weak, the sick, the elderly, invalids and displaced persons”.
After encouraging the Ukrainian bishops to renew their zeal for the constant announcement of the Gospel and to pray attention to vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life, the Ponfiff then goes on to consider the rapport between bishops, while aware of the “complex historical factors that weigh upon your mutual relations, as well as aspects of personal character”.
“The fact that both episcopates are Catholic and Ukrainian remains indisputable, in spite of differences of rites and traditions. I am personally saddened to hear that there are incomprehensions and that harm has been done. There is a need for a doctor, and this doctor is Jesus Christ, whom you both serve with generosity and with all your hearts. You are a single body and, as both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done in the past, I exhort you to find between you a way to accept each other and to support each other generously in your apostolic labours. The unity of the episcopate, aside from giving a good example to the People of God, represents an inestimable service to the nation at a cultural, social, and above all spiritual level”. You are united in fundamental values and have the most valuable treasure in common: faith and the People of God. Therefore, I regard joint meetings of the bishops of all the “sui iuris” Churches present in Ukraine to be of the highest importance”.
“Whether Greek-Catholics or Latins, you are sons of the Catholic Church, which has been subject to martyrdom in your land too”, remarks Francis. “May the blood of your witnesses, who intercede from Heaven on your behalf, be a further inspiration to a true communion of hearts. Unite your strength and support each other, transforming historical events into a reason for sharing and unity. Well-rooted in the Catholic community, you can also apply yourselves with faith and patience to ecumenism, so that all Christians may grow in unity and cooperation. I am sure that your decisions, in accordance with the Successor of Peter, will be able to take on board the expectations of all your People. I invite you all to govern the Communities entrusted to you ensuring as far as possible your presence and closeness to the priests and faithful. I hope that you may maintain respectful and fruitful relations with the public authorities”.
Finally, the Holy Father exhorts them to pay great attention to the poor. “They are your wealth”, he emphasises. “You are the pastors of a flock entrusted to you by Christ; always be clearly aware of this, even within your internal organs of self-governance, which must always be understood as instruments of communion and prophecy. In this sense, I hope that your intentions and your actions will always be oriented towards the overall good of the Churches entrusted to you. … I impart with affection a special apostolic blessing to you, your communities and the dear population of Ukraine”.