By Christopher Wells
In his remarks to the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Pope Francis acknowledged the "difficult and delicate situation” in Ukraine, which has suffered more than five years of war in its eastern provinces. The Pope noted the so-called ‘hybrid’ nature of the conflict, “composed as it is of acts of war in which those responsible camouflage themselves; a conflict where the weakest and the smallest pay the highest price; a conflict aggravated by propagandistic falsifications and by manipulations of various types, also in the attempt to involve in the religious aspect.”
"I hold you in my heart"
The Holy Father assured the visiting prelates, “I hold you in my heart, and I pray for you, dear Ukrainian brothers.” He said, too, that his prayer goes out for all those affected by the fighting: “I ask of the ‘God of all comfort’ to comfort the souls of those who have lost their loved ones due to the war; those who bear wounds in their body and in their spirit; those who have had to leave their home and work, and face the risk of searching a more human future elsewhere, far away.”
Pope Francis said that each day, in the morning and at night, he looks upon an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, presented to him by Major Archbishop Shevchuk. “It may be said that I begin and end the days 'in Ukrainian', looking at Our Lady," the Holy Father said, ensuring the Bishops that he entrusted them and their churches to “the tenderness of Our Lady, who is Mother.”
Witnesses of Christian hope
In the face of “complex situations, caused by the conflicts,” Pope Francis said the main role of the Church is “that of offering witness of Christian hope.” For this reason, he said, “the priority for believers" should be "that of remaining united to Jesus, our hope.” He called on Ukrainians to look to the example of the Saints, who, "in the violent field of history... planted Christ's Cross. And they bore fruit.” This way of acting, the Pope said, is a rejection of the “logic of the world, according to which one responds to violence with violence."
Pope Francis encouraged the Pastors to be concerned primarily for prayer, and for the spiritual life of themselves and of their flocks. "It is the first occupation,” he said. “No other goes before it.”
Fostering a spirit of closeness
He also recommended that the Bishops should be close to their people. “That is what the Lord had asked of His Apostles” on Holy Thursday, the night before He was crucified. “The closeness of the Pastors to the faithful is a channel that is built day by day, and which brings the living water of hope.”
In that “spirit of closeness,” the Pope recalled the humanitarian initiative he promoted in favour of Ukraine. He expressed his gratitude to all who “contributed to the realization of this collection, both on the economic level, and on the organizational and technical levels.” The Pope added that he hoped to see other special projects follow the first initiative, which was now substantially concluded. “We cannot forget our brothers and sisters who are suffering, wherever they come from,” he said.
In addition to “prayer” and “closeness,” Pope Francis added, as a third feature of their pastoral activity, the concept of “synodality” – a word, he said, that is already familiar. He highlighted three important aspects of synodality: listening; shared responsibility; and the involvement of the laity. Synodality, the Pope said, “leads to broadening horizons, to living the wealth of one’s own tradition within the universality of the Church… The unity in the Church will be far more fruitful, the more the understanding and cohesion between the Holy See and the particular Churches will be real.”
Pope Francis concluded his remarks with the hope that the meeting would be a “powerful” time of “sharing, of mutual listening, of free dialogue, always inspired by the search for good, in the spirit of the Gospel.”