Ukraine's Shevchuk: 'Rules of war cannot be dominated, only God can save us'
By Salvatore Cernuzio
"Thank you" are the words repeated several times by the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halyč.
That gratitude he expresses to Pope Francis for alerting the world - as the war has waged on for exactly six months - to the 'global threat' that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine represents.
Another thank you he extends to all the priests, monks, and bishops who have not abandoned people under the constant threat of bombardment. He also conveys further appreciation to Europe, which has opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees, sometimes welcoming them into their own families.
Speaking on the phone with Vatican Media, through which he offers blessings from Kyiv, Major Archbishop Shevchuk calls for international solidarity. Lifting his gaze to the transcendental dimension of what the Pope has stigmatised as barbarity, he affirms that war is a "mystery of evil... beyond all human rule and control, even beyond that of those who have provoked it."
"Only God," he says, "can open the paths to build peace in the midst of this war."
Q: Your Beatitude, how has the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church continued to live out its mission during the war, to concretely bring help to combat zones and consolation to those who have seen their friends, neighbours, and family members die?
First of all, it must be said that the Church is part of the Ukrainian people: we are the suffering people, the people who have been attacked, the victims of this unjust aggression. In this awareness, the people have always given us guidelines on how we should carry out our mission. I call this the sacrament of presence. The visible presence of priests, monks, bishops is very important for our people, especially in the now-occupied combat zones. We are with them.
And this presence of the Church for the simple people represents the presence of the Lord. Because the people's first question was: 'But where is the Lord? In these dramatic conditions, when we are being killed every day, where is God?"
To this existential question, the presence of the Church has provided an answer. And this presence always leads to pastoral action: we have managed to create a network of communication, and also ways to send humanitarian aid. We were able to be flexible, to analyse the rapidly-changing humanitarian situation on a daily basis, and then respond appropriately. To those who needed to be evacuated, we offered transport; to those who needed food, we gave food and other aid; to those who needed protection, we gave shelter in our churches, in monasteries used as air-raid shelters. This was our response: unanimous, spontaneous, without explicit commands.
Q: In six months of fighting, you never stopped repeating that the war 'can and must be won with God's peace' and that 'today this word - peace - is equal to the word love.' What does this mean for a people who every day, as you said, reckon with bombs and death?
As pastors, we see the people are dominated by anguish, fear and anger. And there are those who tempt them by fomenting hatred against those who attack us. That is why we pastors are preaching the Gospel of peace. Precisely by responding to these feelings of the people, we witness to the God who is love, the God who is the source of peace.
Q: The Pope has also put Ukraine at the centre since the first day of the war, with continuous calls for peace and initiatives to help. But Pope Francis' main concern is global: it is the whole world, he said, that is threatened by this barbarity. How do these words resonate with you?
We are very grateful to Pope Francis for making himself our voice in this regard. The Pope, as the Successor of Peter, has the special gift of seeing in the situation we experience in Ukraine, a global threat. The war in Ukraine afflicts the very fabric of humanity; these crimes affect not only Ukrainians, but the entire world. That is why we are truly grateful to the Holy Father for being our spokesman, also for shaking the consciences of the West and the world by asking for prayers for Ukraine and universal solidarity with its people.
Q: During these six months, even under the bombings, you never stopped making your voice and support heard with daily messages to Ukrainians and others. Personally, what has given you strength in this tragedy?
The strength that has been given to me in these months, is that of pastoral responsibility: I felt responsible not only for myself, but above all for the people. So I have first and foremost, tried to save people. Even with the messages that we are spreading daily, we accompany our people. Many have said that these messages are a source of encouragement for them.
Q: Ukraine has seen millions of its compatriots experience the anguish of fleeing, and, at the same time, solidarity and welcome in so many countries. What do wish to say to those who have opened their doors to Ukrainian families?
From the depths of our hearts, comes one word of gratitude: thank you. I realise that it is too little to say just 'thank you', but we are indeed very grateful for this openness. In Europe, there are refugee camps for the Ukrainians, but so many people first opened their hearts, then the doors of their homes, their families' [homes]. And thus, solidarity proved to be a Christian value par excellence. Let us pray to the Lord to bless all those who were able to, at this time, lend a hand to the suffering Ukrainian people.
Q: You have said on several occasions that 'man, unfortunately, knows how to start wars, but then becomes a slave to war.' What do you hope will put an end to this 'slavery'?
We experience, in a direct way, that war is the mysterium iniquitatis St Paul spoke of: it is truly a mystery of evil that opens up in this world. That aggressor who starts the war lives the illusion that he can dominate the rules of war, but it is, indeed, an illusion.
For from the very first shot, war is out of human control. And the aggressor himself becomes a slave to the devil he has brought out of his heart. That is why every day in the prayer of the 'Our Father,' we say 'deliver us from evil.'
God is the source of peace; He is the Lord of peace. We believe that only He can put an end to this mystery of iniquity.
Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here