(Vatican Radio) After his meeting with Pope Francis on Saturday, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, spoke to Vatican Radio’s Ukrainian section.
A translation of the interview follows:
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: “The meeting of our Permanent Synod was an historical meeting, because in a few days, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the Pseudo-Synod of Lviv, the forced suppression of our Church in what was then the Ukrainian USSR. We had planned to hold a session of the Permanent Synod and have a special audience with the Holy Father at this time, so that, once again, and in a visible way, we could manifest our full ecclesial communion with the Successor of the Apostle Peter, that living communion which those who orchestrated the pseudo-synod attempted to destroy.
This was the first meeting after the signing of the Havana Declaration and the meeting of Patriarch Kirill with the Pope. So the Lord God took our original intention and placed it in a new context. I want to emphasize that our discussion was extraordinarily warm and the Holy Father highlighted our time together in Argentina and how precious the little icon which I gave him when we said goodbye in 2011 [when Shevchuk moved to Kyiv] was to him. With fatherly affection he told us that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church is like a favourite child to him, one that he personally cares for.
When I explained to him the various ways in which Ukrainians had interpreted the Havana accord, he underlined that, in his way of thinking, you cannot achieve any goal at the price of even a single life, let alone that of an entire Eastern Catholic Church. He empathizes with – and shares the concerns of – the Ukrainian people and views the communion that our Church has with Peter as a spiritual inheritance not only for us, but for the Universal Church as a whole.
As to the dramatic situation in Ukraine, I emphasized how important the moral authority is of the Pope is, not only for Ukraine or for the Greek or Roman Catholic Churches there, but for all confessions and for those of no particular confession. I explained how our people are particularly sensitive about the unjust aggression against Ukraine and that, if they can’t hear a clear voice from the Holy Father, they don’t understand and they feel lost and abandoned.
We also explained the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the war; the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in Europe since the Second World War. We compared the number of migrants in Germany and those in Ukraine and compared how each country reacted to the challenge. We told him that Ukraine needs international humanitarian assistance and an appeal from the Pope to the international community. He assured us that he is ready to do this and has already received the reports of the Apostolic Nuncio, who visited Donbas [in the war zone]. He told us that he even watched video coverage taken during this visit, so he truly understands what Ukraine is going through, and he sympathises and is ready to help.
We also shared with him other problems that Ukrainian society is going through, and told him how our Church is attempting – through preaching and promoting authentic Catholic social doctrine – to help build-up Ukrainian society and the state, working together with other Churches and religious organizations.
We gave the Pope a copy of the Ukrainian icon from Poland, “Doors of Mercy”. He had had the original brought to Rome to be used during the inauguration of the Holy Year. After he blessed us, he bowed his head said, ‘the Pope can also ask for a blessing, so please bless me.’ We were very moved as he humbly bowed his head to receive our blessing.
Vatican Radio: What would you say to those who expressed concern about the Havana Declaration?
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: I not only understand their feelings, but I also had the same feeling myself. I could not understand some of the points of the Havana Declaration. In light of today’s meeting, we know that the Holy Father shares in the sufferings of the Ukrainian people, and that he considers the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as a favourite child of the Universal Church. He assured us not to worry, and of his closeness to our needs and his attention to us. He explained that the meeting with patriarch Kirill was necessary for the Universal Church and that the declaration itself is ‘not the words of the Gospel’: It is open to discussion and to criticism. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has the right to its opinion, and he expressed particular gratitude to us, in listening to our observations of it.
(Translation by Fr. Athanasius McVay)