(Vatican Radio) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, says a meeting of bishops with Pope Francis this week will be a sign of their “full and visible communion with the successor of Peter”.
Members of the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church are gathered in Rome from February 29th to March 6th and are scheduled to meet with the Pope on Saturday. The Archbishop’s words came at an encounter earlier in the week with members of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps, during which he and other Church leaders highlighted the strength of faith but also warned of the huge challenges facing the people of Ukraine today.
Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s report:
Archbishop Shevchuk told diplomats that the meeting of Church leaders in Rome was planned some time ago to mark the 70th anniversary of the “pseudo-Synod” of Lviv which led to the liquidation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church throughout the former Soviet Union. For the next four decades, the Church was persecuted and survived as an underground organisation until the fall of the Communist regime in the early 1990s.
Byzantine-rite or Greek Catholics in Ukraine today number about 10 percent of the population, alongside a small Latin-rite Church, while the majority Orthodox Christians belong to three different patriarchates.
The recent encounter of Pope Francis with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba and the signing of a joint declaration raised great concern among some Ukrainian Catholic faithful. But Archbishop Shevchuk said such concerns do not undermine his Church’s full and visible unity with the Pope and the Church of Rome.
Speaking to the diplomats, other bishops stressed the way the Church is flourishing in Ukraine today almost 30 years on from its liberation from Soviet oppression. But Bishop Boris Gudziak, head of the Church of the diaspora in France, Benelux and Switzerland, also warned of the increasingly difficult conditions facing Ukrainians in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the conflict in the east of the country
At least 2 million people have been internally displaced by the war and another 2 and a half million have fled the country. The Ukrainian Church leaders are appealing to Pope Francis and to the whole of the Catholic community to do everything possible to end the conflict and to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to the suffering population.