‘When the Holy Father touches Ukrainian soil, the war will come to an end’

ARCHBISHOP SVIATOSLAV SHEVCHUK of Kiev-Halych and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Ukraine is expecting a visit from Pope Francis. He said: “Just as he recently visited Iraq, just as he will be going to visit different countries in the world in spite of the difficulties presented by COVID, so Ukraine is expecting the Holy Father to visit. I recall how one old woman recently approached me to say, ‘When the Holy Father comes and touches Ukrainian soil, then the war will come an end.’”

The major archbishop confirmed that, during his visit to the Vatican in late March, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal, extended an invitation to the Pope to visit Ukraine.

The prelate reported that the meeting between the Pope and the head of the government had been well received within the country. “It was also a good sign that the relationship between the state of Ukraine and the Holy See would offer a means not only of preventing any form of escalation in the conflict in Ukraine, but also of learning how to foster dialogue and reconciliation.”

Pope Francis has often drawn attention to the difficult situation in Ukraine, most recently during the papal Easter Urbi et Orbi Easter address. Archbishop Shevchuk said: “We are very grateful to the Holy Father for his ongoing support, for his prayers and solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”

In view of the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, particularly in the eastern parts of the country, Archbishop Shevchuk stressed that the situation in Ukraine cannot be resolved by military means, but only through diplomacy: “I’m committed to dialogue because with dialogue we can heal the wounds and peace will prevail over war.”

According to the archbishop, concerns are growing among Christians in Ukraine as the Easter celebration of the Eastern Church on 2 May approaches. “Our greatest fear is that the violence on the eastern border of our country may escalate.” In its latest move, Russia temporarily deployed up to 100,000 troops in the region. While Moscow itself called it a troop exercise, Ukrainian and international observers consider it a deliberate provocation.

Archbishop Shevchuk

During his meeting with CAN, Archbishop Shevchuk, who is currently the chairman of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, reaffirmed the interfaith council’s call for an Easter ceasefire in east Ukraine, the region that Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists have been fighting over for years. “We pray that the joyful liturgical chants will prevail over the voice of the cannons and guns. We pray for peace. It is our greatest desire that the Resurrection of Christ, the King of Peace, will bring us relief from the violence and the fear that we will be attacked once again.”

Major Archbishop Shevchuk expressed his deep concerns about the humanitarian situation in which his faithful in east Ukraine find themselves. “Our main concern is the humanitarian situation in this part of Ukraine. The situation has deteriorated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The people there are isolated, they have been forgotten, they do not have any access to medicine.”

People are dependent on assistance from the Church. The archbishop said: “The priests and parish communities are their only salvation. This is their only way of receiving any form of support or help. This is why we decided to remain with our people. And our priests there are doing outstanding work.”

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed massive restrictions on the pastoral work of the Church. “Many of us have started to broadcast our divine services online to give our parishioners the opportunity to participate in Holy Mass and Sunday Mass online.” This reminds the archbishop of the times of persecution under the Soviet regime.

“At that time, the only way to receive some kind of spiritual support was to listen to Vatican Radio. It is almost exactly the same situation all over again.”

The archbishop then talked about how pastoral care was currently reaching its limits because of the few possibilities for administering the sacraments. “We can pray, we can preach online, we can even meditate on Holy Scripture online. But we cannot administer the sacraments online. And that is a major source of suffering now,” he said. “But nevertheless, we are preparing for the most joyful feast of the year, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

ACN has been supporting the Church in Ukraine for many years. Since the conflict broke out in east Ukraine, the organization has increased its aid for the Catholic dioceses in the war-torn regions. Without assistance from outside the country, neither the priests nor the parishes would be able to exist there. Another of ACN’s main areas of support is Christian media, which serves both as a source of information and as an instrument to relay the message of the Church.

—Mario Oliver

To watch the interview with Archbishop Shevchuk, please click here.