In a sacred gathering filled with anticipation, the 2023 Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) commenced on a serene Sunday, September 3rd, in the heart of Rome. This year’s synod carries a profound theme – “Pastoral Accompaniment of War Victims” – reflecting the Church’s dedication to addressing the immense suffering caused by conflict. His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the Father and Head of the UGCC, presided over the Divine Liturgy, an event graced by UGCC bishops from around the world. Among the distinguished attendees was Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Catholic Churches, who came to extend his greetings to the synod fathers.

This year’s synod boasts the participation of 45 out of 55 bishops hailing from Ukraine, Central and Western Europe, North and South America, and Australia. Notably, Bishop-nominee Mykhailo Kvyatkovskyi, recently appointed to the New Westminster Diocese, joined the ranks of Bishops Maxim Ryabukha, Mykola Semenyshin, Andriy Khimyak, Peter Goliney, and Volodymyr Firman, all ordained in the past year, making their inaugural appearance at the Synod. Additionally, several invited guests added their unique perspectives to the gathering.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav aptly christened this year’s Synod in Rome as the “Synod of Hope,” acknowledging its significance in a world grappling with the relentless challenges of war and unrest. He drew parallels with historical Church synods convened during times of crisis, emphasizing that these gatherings are profound moments when the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church and its people. It is a time for the bishops to stand in prayer, seeking divine guidance and the courage to fulfill God’s will.

Sviatoslav lamented that, for many, the world would seem happier and more peaceful without Ukraine, its people, the state, and their Church. He likened the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to a “pebble in the shoe” for those who prioritize earthly matters over spiritual calling. He stressed the importance of hope in God for those who defend truth, the right to life, and the existence of Ukraine.

In a poignant moment, Sviatoslav invoked the wisdom of Saint Sophia, asking for divine guidance and calling upon the church’s great patriarch, Joseph, to imbue the Church with the strength to fulfill its unique mission in the modern world.

The second beacon of hope during this year’s Synod is the opportunity for UGCC bishops to speak powerfully to the world from Rome itself, addressing both the city and the Holy Father. As Sviatoslav noted, the world yearns to hear the true history of Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and Russia, as written not by imperialist colonizers but through the experiences and voices of the people who have endured struggles for their existence and freedom.

In his address to the Synod, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti conveyed Pope Francis’s love and unwavering support for Ukraine. He emphasized the Church’s role in comforting those who suffer, describing the war in Ukraine as “atheistic” and “god-killing” due to the innocent lives it has claimed. The Archbishop called upon the Church to pray for an end to the conflict and for the protection of all those affected.

After the Divine Liturgy, Bishop Andrii Khimyak, the Synod’s Secretary, read the Decree for the 2023 Synod of Bishops of the UGCC convened in Rome. The evening of September 3rd saw the bishops gather to pray to the Holy Spirit, take their synodal oath, and process with the Holy Gospel to the meeting hall, marking the official commencement of the 2023 Synod of Bishops of the UGCC, a significant event set to continue until September 13th.

In this Synod of Hope, the UGCC bishops have gathered to seek divine wisdom, speak truth to the world, and receive a gesture of hope from Pope Francis himself. It is a momentous occasion that underscores the Church’s unwavering commitment to healing and guiding those affected by the scars of war.