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Churches and religions in Ukraine working to protect Creation

For the second year in a row, the Catholic University of Lviv, Ukraine, has organized an Ecumenical Social Week, taking its cue from Pope Francis' Laudato si'. Following last year's edition dedicated to "Hearing the Cry of the Earth. Integral Ecology in Action," the university's Institute of Ecumenical Studies has chosen for this year's event the theme "Promoting the Common Good: Toward Sustainable Development." Work will begin on October 5, 2021.

By Svitlana Dukhovych – Vatican City

For centuries called the "breadbasket of Europe" thanks to its fertile soil, Ukraine is potentially a very rich country. The Ukrainians are a people who know how to hope and fight for their dreams.

Despite the economic and social problems and the conflict in the East of the country, they believe they will be able to take their destiny into their own hands, developing their full potential, preserving the beauty of nature and ensuring the fair and sustainable use of natural resources.

The contribution of the Churches

An important contribution to the building of peace and wellbeing in this Eastern European country, which gained independence in 1991, can also come from the Christian Churches and the realities of other religions. Inspired by the words of St. John Paul II, who during his visit to Ukraine 20 years ago called it a "laboratory of ecumenism", the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of the Catholic University of Lviv (UUC) seeks to create a fertile ground for cultivating dialogue between the Churches and religions so that their voices may be heard in contemporary society. Every year since 2008 the Institute has organized the Ecumenical Social Week, an international forum in which representatives of academia, churches, public authorities, charitable organizations, and the media participate to discuss and find solutions to social issues, based on the principles of the common good and the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Some of the participants at last year's Ecumenical Social Week
Some of the participants at last year's Ecumenical Social Week

Listening to the cry of the earth

"We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation." This quote from the Joint Message of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 2017 inspired the 13th edition of Ecumenical Social Week, celebrated last year with the theme "Hearing the Cry of the Earth. Integral Ecology in Action," during the Year dedicated to Laudato si'. The event took place almost entirely online due to the pandemic and was organized in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the civil authorities of Lviv.

One of the online meetings of the Ecumenical Social Week
One of the online meetings of the Ecumenical Social Week

Also guiding the reflection is the conviction - expressed in Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si' - that "the majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity." (201).

Helping the Churches make their voices heard in society

Over the course of the four days, the participants - including environmentalists, businesspeople, scientists, theologians, representatives of civil authorities, and the media - took part in about 20 web-hosted meetings, discussing the issues of integral ecology and seeking answers to current ecological challenges. "The theme of the environment - explains the coordinator of the Ecumenical Social Week, Iryna Kitura - unites everyone and is important for everyone. Interestingly, during the preparation of the forum, we realized that some of the participants knew little or nothing about the Church's initiatives in the field of environmental protection. During the Ecumenical Social Week, reflections, and concrete projects in the field of ecology developed by Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims were presented. And this is one of our tasks: to help the churches and the ecclesial realities make their voices heard more strongly. It is also an opportunity for churches to collaborate with each other, to listen to activists, businesspeople, educators and other participants.

The earth unites us all

Also taking part in the conference were Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Archdeacon John Chryssavgis, environmental advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Cardinal Peter Turkson was also among the participants of the 2020 edition
Cardinal Peter Turkson was also among the participants of the 2020 edition

The cardinal, in his speech, stressed that nature cannot be considered "something separate from ourselves: we are part of nature and for this reason - he added - we cannot behave as masters who abuse it." "I have come to believe," Archdeacon Chryssavgis said for his part, "that in our relationship with creation we are called to evoke and affirm our interconnectedness with the rest of the world. This is what I would call the ecumenical imperative of care for creation. This perception of interconnectedness reminds us that the earth unites us all, before and beyond any doctrinal, political, racial or other differences." In recent years, in addition to the Christian churches, representatives of other religions have also participated in Ecumenical Social Week. "As we Muslims say - stressed Sheikh Said Ismagilov, mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine "Ummah" - we have no place to escape from this planet, we will all live together. Therefore, if we all live together, we need to find a common language, to work together, even to protect resources, to protect what God has given us for the sake of humanity."

The symphony of religions

"Ukraine and, in particular, Lviv," explains Pavlo Smytsnyuk, director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies founded 15 years ago, "unique places from the point of view of ecumenism. On the one hand, in this land there have been many conflicts between religions and denominations, some of which continue to this day. On the other hand, Ukraine is a pluralistic country where no denomination has the majority. That's why the various faith communities must work together to make their voices heard." One of the ways to bring representatives of different denominations and religions to the same table, Smytsnyuk notes, is to talk about social issues "so that the voice of religion sounds like one symphony," so that churches and religions can contribute to development, peace and well-being.

"Ukraine survived the Chernobyl catastrophe," the theologian continues, "and now lives in a period of military conflict in the east. It is a country where the Churches and society want to get out of this vicious circle and give their contribution to other Churches, religions and societies. And for us, the support of the world community in what we do is extremely important and we are really happy to share our gifts with others."

Copies of the encyclical Laudato si' in Ukrainian
Copies of the encyclical Laudato si' in Ukrainian

Continuing reflection on Laudato si'

Despite the need for an online meeting due to anti-Covid measures, last year's Ecumenical Social Week dedicated to the themes of integral ecology generated great enthusiasm among the participants who represented 15 countries. Taking up their invitation and remaining within the framework of the 2015 encyclical of the Pope Francis, the Institute of Ecumenical Studies has decided to dedicate the 14th edition to the theme "Promoting the common good: towards sustainable development". Lviv will host the gathering both online and in presence from October 5 to 9, 2021.

07 September 2021, 09:48