Russia has Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the crosshairs

MAJOR ARCHBISHOP Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is targeted for assassination by Russian troops, said the head of the Ukrainian Catholic in the United States.

In an interview with George Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA (ACNUSA), Archbishop Borys Gudziak, who heads the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, said that Archbishop Shefchuk “is on the hit list. He has been in a safe house. He’s moving around from bomb shelter to bomb shelter in Kyiv. Many bishops and priests are in an analogous situation.”

He added: “Every time there’s a Russian occupation of any part of Ukraine where the Ukrainian Catholic Church is ministering, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is strangled and eventually rendered illegal and maybe extinguished.”

Archbishop Gudziak

Stalin dispossessed and drove the Ukrainian Catholic Church underground after World War II. And since 2014, when Russia-backed militias took control of Crimea and, shortly after, parts of eastern Ukraine, the effect on the Church and other minority faiths in those areas “has been devastating.” The archbishop fears that “if there is greater occupation of Ukraine by the Russians, the Church will really get hit,” he told ACNUSA.

Archbishop Gudziak is concerned about the role in the war played by the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill has made comments that are tantamount to an endorsement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

“While most Christian churches are revisiting their history and seeing the colonization and empire-building in which churches often played some kind of role, they are recognizing it has nothing to do with the Gospel and with God’s will. The Russian Orthodox Church is still in a colonial mindset.

“In fact, it’s increasingly so in the last 15 years. Patriarch Kirill has developed this ideological construct called the ‘Russian world,’ which basically says, wherever we had our empire, that’s our canonical territory, and we are the predominant Church that is supposed to guide society and have its footprint there. This phrase, ‘Russian World,’ was then taken from the Church by Putin and is now being used by him.

“The Patriarch, and his main spokesman, Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Department of External Church Affairs, are not able to speak truth to power. They are not able to speak out clearly in defense of the orphans and widows [whose numbers] are being multiplied. They don’t defend the schools and universities and hospitals that are being destroyed. It’s a major problem. It’s a major problem for the Russian Orthodox Church and for Russian society.

Nonetheless, the archbishop looks to the future with hope and confidence. He told ACNUSA: “We’re very grateful that Churches throughout the world are praying; prayer is very important. Prayer brought down the Soviet Union down. It wasn’t a war, and it wasn’t an army. It was the blood of martyrs, God’s grace and years of prayer and the kind of work that Aid to the Church in Need did, educating people and calling people to pray for the fall of communism.

“We saw the incredible power of a tyranny of a totalitarian state armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, with limitless resources for repression. Yet the Soviet Union was not able to snuff out the Church. The Church will prevail. Jesus gave a promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.

“We should really look with great hope and faith on the fact that despite the excruciating suffering, the crucifixion of the people and the Churches, there will be an Easter. God is the Lord of history. For more than 2000 years, there have been countless attempts to destroy the Church and kill Christians. But the faith lives on. It’s passed on and the Church prevails. There [have] never been more Catholics in the world than there are today.

“We have prayer, we have grace, and we can see that, morally, Ukraine has already won this war. This moral foundation is what the Church works with, what Jesus preaches, what is God’s will for us—and it prevails even as it often entails great suffering.”