By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis met on Tuesday with the Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, on the occasion of the 1030th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine.
During the audience, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav drew attention to the UGCC’s relations with the other churches that are “heirs to the Baptism by Saint Volodomyr.” Speaking of the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, his Beatitude spoke of the “painful reality” of divisions. He emphasized that, although the UGCC looks positively on efforts to overcome division, it nonetheless considers such matters internal to the Orthodox Churches, insisting that the UGCC never interferes in or takes part in such efforts.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav explained that the USCCB so-called “uniatism” as a method for achieving “the unity of Christ’s Church.” He noted that the Eastern Catholic Churches are not a means toward that unity, but are themselves “living members of Christ’s Church,” with a right to exist and a call to engage in mission and in the work of evangelization.
The Major Archbishop in a statement on Wednesday said that during the audience, Pope Francis “thanked the UGCC for its martyrdom” as “a Confession of the Christian Faith and a testimony that the Successor of Peter the Apostle has a special mission of service to Christian unity.” The Pope agreed that any accusations of “uniatism” against the UGCC are absolutely without foundation. According to the statement, the Holy Father also expressed his “closeness to the Ukrainian nation which, as the victim of unjust aggression, is living through a painful period in its history.”
Other matters touched upon in the audience were the issue of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation, especially emphasized by Pope Francis; and the upcoming ecumenical gathering in Bari, Italy; as well as a proposal by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav for a meeting in Rome next year of Eastern Catholic Bishops in Europe.