(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday met with the Bishops of Ukraine, who are in Rome for their ad limina visit. The Bishops were led by Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv of the Latins.
Listen to the report by Christopher Wells:
In keeping with recent custom, the Holy Father's prepared remarks were delivered to Bishops at the beginning of the audience, giving Pope Francis the opportunity to speak personally with the assembled prelates.
In his prepared remarks, Pope Francis spoke about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, assuring the Bishops of his continued closeness and prayers for the people of Ukraine. The Holy Father said he prayed especially for peace, and called on all parties in the conflict to “apply the agreements reached by mutual accord” and “to be respectful to the principle of international legality.”
The Pope emphasized that the Bishops are “full citizens” with the right to express their opinions on the future of the country – not, he said, in the sense of promoting a concrete political agenda, but by proposing common values and working for “harmony and the common good.” He assured the Bishops “the Holy See is at your side, even in international forums, to ensure your rights, your concerns, and the just evangelical values that animate you are understood.”
The ongoing crisis in the country, Pope Francis said, also has grave repercussions for families. But families are also affected by the “misguided sense of economic liberty” that enriches the few at the expense of the great majority of the population. This, he said, “has generated an unjust poverty in a generous and rich land.” The Pope encouraged the Bishops to renew their “pastoral zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel in Ukrainian society,” and “to support one another with effective collaboration.”
Finally, the Holy Father offered his reflections on the relationship between the members of the episcopate in the country. The presence of both the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Latin Church present in Ukraine has, at times, affected relations between the Bishops. “The fact that both episcopates are Catholic and are Ukrainian is indisputable, even in the diversity of rites and traditions,” the Pope said. “It is painful for me personally to hear that there are misunderstandings and injuries. There is need of a doctor — and this is Jesus Christ, whom you both serve with generosity and with your whole hearts.” Both Greek-Catholics and Latins, he said, are sons of the Catholic Church. He encouraged the Bishops to unite their forces and support one another in their common mission.
Finally, commending them to the intercession of the martyrs and saints of Ukraine, and to the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin, Pope Francis bestowed upon the Bishops, upon their communities, and upon all the people of Ukraine, a “special” Apostolic Blessing.
Belowed, please find the complete English translation of Pope Francis' prepared remarks:
Dear Brother Bishops,
I welcome you into this house which is also your house. And you know this well, because the Successor of Peter has always welcomed with fraternal friendship the brothers from Ukraine, a land that is rightly considered the borderland between the heirs of Vladimir and Olga, and those of Adalbert and of the great Carolingian missions, as well as those that look back to the Apostles of the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius. You are welcome, my very dear friends.
I have carefully learned of the many problems you face, as well as of your pastoral programs. I entrust them to God’s Mother, and ours, that she might watch over them with tender love.
1. You find yourselves, as a country, in a situation of grave conflict, which has been going on for several months and continues to claim numerous innocent victims and to cause great suffering to the entire population. In this period, as I have assured you personally and conveyed by Cardinal envoys, I am very close to you with my prayers for the dead and for all those struck by violence, with the prayer to the Lord that He might speedily grant peace, and with the appeal to all the interested parties that they might apply the agreements reached by mutual accord and might be respectful toward the principle of international legality; in particular, that the recently signed truce might be observed and all the other commitments, which are the conditions for avoiding a resumption of hostilities.
I recognize the historical events that have marked your land and are still present in the collective memory. They deal with questions that have a partially political base, and to which you are not called to give a direct response; but they are also socio-cultural realities and human tragedies that await your direct and positive contribution.
In such circumstances, what is important is that you listen attentively to the voices that come from the territories where the people entrusted to your pastoral care live. Listening to your people, you will be attentive to the values that characterize it: encounter, collaboration, the ability to resolve controversies. In a few words: the search for possible peace. It is with charity, the divine love that springs from the heart of Christ, that you have made this ethical patrimony fruitful. I am well aware that, at the local level, you have specific arrangements and practices among you, the heirs of two legitimate spiritual traditions — the Eastern and the Latin — as well as with the other Christians present among you. As well as a duty, this is an honour that must be recognised.
2. On the national level, you are full citizens of your country, and so you have the right to express, even in the common way, your thought on its destiny — not in the sense of promoting a concrete political action, but in the indication and re-affirmation of the values that constitute the coagulating element of Ukrainian society, persevering in the tireless pursuit of harmony and of the common good, even in the face of grave and complex difficulties.
The Holy See is at your side, even in international forums, to ensure that your rights, your concerns, and the just evangelical values that animate you are understood. It is seeking, too, how to meet the pastoral necessities of those ecclesiastical structures that have found themselves facing new juridical questions.
3. The ongoing crisis in your country has, understandably, had serious repercussions in the life of families. To this is united the consequences of that misguided sense of economic liberty that has allowed the formation of a small group of people that are enormously enriched at the expense of the great majority of citizens. The presence of such a phenomenon has, unfortunately, contaminated in various ways even the public institutions. This has generated an unjust poverty in a generous and rich land.
Never tire of proposing to your fellow citizens the considerations that faith and pastoral responsibility suggest to you. The sense of justice and of truth, is moral before it is political, and this task is entrusted to your responsibility as Pastors. The more you are free ministers of the Church of Christ, so much more, even in your poverty, will you make yourselves defenders of the family, of the poor, of the unemployed, of the weak, of the sick, of the elderly pensioners, of invalids, of displaced persons.
I encourage you to renew, with the grace of God, your pastoral zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel in Ukrainian society, and to support one another with effective collaboration. May you always have the gaze of Christ, who saw the abundance of the harvest and asked to pray the Lord that He might send labourers (cf Mt 9:37-38). This signifies praying and working for vocations to priesthood and consecrated life, and at the same time attentive care for the formation of clerics, and of men and women religious, in the service of a more profound and organic understanding of the faith within the people of God.
4. I would like, too, to leave you a further reflection on the relations between you brothers in the episcopate. I recognise the complex historical events that weigh on mutual relations, as well as some aspects of a personal nature.
The fact that both episcopates are Catholic and are Ukrainian is indisputable, even in the diversity of rites and traditions. It is painful for me personally to hear that there are misunderstandings and injuries. There is need of a doctor — and this is Jesus Christ, whom you both serve with generosity and with your whole hearts. You are a single body and, as was said to you in the past by Saint John Paul II, and by Benedict XVI, I in my turn urge you to find among yourselves a manner of welcoming one another and of sustaining one another generously in your apostolic labours.
The unity of the episcopate, as well as giving good witness to the People of God, renders an inestimable service to the Nation, both on the cultural and social plane and, above all, on the spiritual plane. You are united in fundamental values and you have in come the most precious treasures: the faith and the people of God. I see, therefore, of paramount importance the joint meetings of the Bishops of all the Churches sui iuris present in Ukraine. May you always be generous in speaking among yourselves as brothers!
Both as Greek-Catholics and as Latins you are sons of the Catholic Church, which in your land too was for a long time subject to martyrdom. The blood of your witnesses, who intercede for you from heaven, is a further motive that urges you to true communion of hearts. Unite your forces and support one another, making historical events a motive of sharing and unity. Rooted in the catholic communion, you will also be able to carry forward the ecumenical commitment with faith and patience, so that unity and cooperation between all Christians may grow.
5. I am certain that your decisions, in accord with the Successor of Peter, will be adequate to meet the expectations of your People. I invite you all to govern the communities entrusted to you ensuring as far as possible your presence and your closeness to the priests and to the people.
I am hopeful that you will be able to have respectful and fruitful relations with the public Authorities.
I urge you to be attentive and considerate to the poor: they are your wealth. You are Pastors of a flock entrusted to you by Christ: may you be ever more conscious [of this], even in your internal organs of self-governance. These should be understood as instruments of communion and of prophecy. In this sense, I am hopeful that your intentions and your actions might always be oriented to the general wellbeing of the Churches entrusted to you. In this let the love of your communities guide you, in the same spirit that sustained the Apostles, of whom you are the legitimate successors.
May the memory and the intercession of so many martyrs and saints, whom the Lord Jesus has raised up among you, support you in your work. May the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin reassure you on your journey of encounter with Christ Who comes, strengthening your purposes of communion and collaboration. And, while asking you to pray for me, I affectionately impart a special Apostolic Benediction upon you, upon your Communities, and upon the dear population of Ukraine.