The aftermath of shelling in Donetsk The aftermath of shelling in Donetsk 

Archbishop Shevchuk: Aggression against Ukraine is 'war of total destruction'

The head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church speaks about the situation in war-torn Ukraine at an online event organized by the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, which saw the participation of Cardinals Leonardo Sandri and Michael Czerny.

By Lisa Zengarini

The ongoing brutal aggression waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “war of total destruction” and has no justification, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv- Halyč said on Tuesday.

The head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church made these stark remarks from Kyiv at an online workshop hosted by the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. He was the key speaker at the event, entitled “The role of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the context of the war”.

A view of the war in a different perspective

The session was an opportunity to learn about the situation in the country and the work done by the Church for refugees, internally displaced people and all those who have plunged into poverty as a result of the war.  So far the conflict has forced some 13 million people to leave their homes for safer places, either in Ukraine or abroad.

The Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč was asked to give an overview of the present situation in Ukraine from a different point of view, that of the suffering local Eastern Churches. His description was dramatic.

Destruction and humanitarian catastophe

He said that since the invasion started on February 24, some 1,300 rockets have been launched by Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.  The bombings on cities and towns targeting infrastructures, residential areas and even hospitals are constant and devastating, namely in the martyred city of Mariupol, but also in Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Kyiv, amongst others.

In his testimony, Major Archbishop Shevchuk claimed that humanitarian aid is prevented from entering Mariupol leading to many dying also of hunger.

He also spoke about alleged forcible deportations to remote areas in Russia of thousands of Ukrainian citizens which, he said, remind us of the darkest years of Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union.

The Church supporting people

However, the Ukrainian prelate expressed pride at the fact that priests and bishops have remained to help their people, and in the courage shown by Ukrainians in resisting the Russian invasion. “We wonder, how do we save the people? How do we help the people? How do we bring aid to the weakest ones?”, he said. “Never had we imagined that the basements of our cathedrals would become bomb shelters.”

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church also reiterated his gratitude to Pope Francis and the Holy See for their support and for “doing everything possible to stop this massacre of innocents in Ukraine.”

Referring to the Pope’s Act of Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25, His Beatitude Shevchuk said that this gesture was also appreciated by many Orthodox faithful: “This consecration to our Mother, this presence, this strength of the Immaculate Heart in our midst is truly important”, he stressed.

Archbishop Shevchuk concluded his emotional address with words of hope.

“I feel a duty to be a preacher of hope. A hope that doesn’t come from military powers. A strength that hasn’t come from diplomacy yet. But a strength that comes from the faith.”

Cardinal Sandri

Also taking part in the event, amongst others,  were Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and Cardinal Michael Czerny, interim Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who has been sent as Papal envoy  to the border of Ukraine twice since the outbreak of the war. 

In his introductory remarks, Cardinal Sandri noted that the month-long war in Ukraine is a “sad throwback to the past“ , not only for Ukraine, but for  Europe and the whole world “which seems to have not learned, even from recent history, the horror caused by the devastation of war and  the blind and destructive madness of weapons ".

The Vatican prelate highlighted the role played by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and by the Church as a whole in the context of the war, recalling Pope Francis’ closeness and support to all those suffering in the conflict.

“In recent weeks, Pope Francis has made himself the voice of those who suffer, denouncing the aggression and the invasion and asking not only for today but also for the near future for the effective solidarity of Christian communities and the whole world to all those who are victims of this conflict, who have plunged in poverty, under bombs or forced to leave to save their families.”

Cardinal Sandri therefore expressed his heartfelt hope that peace, justice and the rules of international law be restored as soon as possible and that the wounds left by the conflict be healed.

Cardinal Czerny

Cardinal Czerny, for his part, spoke about what he called attention to the  “heroic Angels of Welcome” he met during his recent trips to Hungary and Slovakia where many Ukrainian refugees are arriving.

 “We readily call them ‘angels’, those who do their best to help strangers in difficulty, often remaining anonymous”, he said. They are “priests’ families as well as men and women religious, celibate priests and bishops, and many lay volunteers”.  

 “Those offering care and welcome are certainly hero angels, but they are not the only ones”, Cardinal Czerny added. “Scripture encourages us to look more deeply and recognize that those who are coming, fleeing, taking shelter, can also be angels in disguise. The Letter to the Hebrews warns us: ‘Do not forget hospitality; some, practising it, have welcomed angels unawares’”, he said.

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30 March 2022, 13:09