ROME – “We came to reaffirm our communion with the holy father and to ask for his help for the suffering people of Ukraine during the Jubilee Year of Mercy,” Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church stated on March 5. “And the holy father heard us.”
In Rome on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Lviv pseudo-synod and the Soviet Union’s outlawing of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav and the members of the Church’s Permanent Synod came to Rome to meet Pope Francis.
The primate of the UGCC and the Permanent Synod members conducted meetings and discussions with representatives of the Holy See, and prepared a public statement denouncing the invasion and hybrid war in Ukraine and decrying the suffering of millions of innocent men, women and children. (For full text see page 10.) The statement condemns the atrocities, kidnappings, imprisonment and torture of citizens of Ukraine in the Donbas and Crimea – especially abuses directed at religious communities and ethnic groups, as well as broad violations of civic rights and the human dignity of millions.
The UGCC leadership appealed to the holy father and to the world to help stop the war and stem the humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ongoing undeclared hybrid war – today marginalized in the world’s attention – has directly affected 5 million people. It has caused 10,000 deaths and tens of thousands of crippling injuries, and rendered homeless over 2 million people. “The people are suffering, holy father, and they await your embrace,” Patriarch Sviatoslav said. “Pope Francis made it clear that he would act.”
The statement’s signatories recalled that Stalin’s regime outlawed the UGCC, making it the world’s largest banned Church, through a violent and manipulative non-canonical action called by historians the pseudo-synod of Lviv held on March 8-10, 1946. The Soviet authorities imprisoned all of the bishops, hundreds of clergy and tens of thousands of faithful, and transferred all Ukrainian Greek-Catholic property to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate or confiscated it for secular purposes.
The UGCC leaders also pointed out that the Church has miraculously revived and today is a thriving, dynamic body active throughout Ukraine and on four continents, with young clergy and a dedicated laity inspired by the example of their 20th century martyrs.
“For Ukrainians who belong to different Churches and religious organizations and even secular citizens, the holy father is a global moral authority who speaks the truth. This voice of truth is particularly important for the suffering people of Ukraine. If the people do not hear or understand this voice they become confused, anxious, and feel forgotten,” Patriarch Sviatoslav said to Pope Francis.
Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francis wrote a letter of thanks and gratitude to Major Archbishop Sviatoslav in which he recalled that 70 years ago, a particular ideological and political context, as well as the existence of “ideas that were contrary to the very existence of your Church, led to the organization of a pseudo-synod in Lviv, and caused decades of suffering for the pastors and the faithful.”
“In sad memory of these events,” he noted, “we bow our heads in deep gratitude before those, who at the cost of suffering and even martyrdom, continued to witness the faith in the course of time and to show dedication to the Church in union with the Successor of Peter.”
Pope Francis went on to express deep gratitude for the loyalty of Ukrainian Greek-Catholics and encouraged them to be “tireless witnesses of that hope which makes our existence and the existence of all of our brothers and sisters more luminous.” He also reaffirmed his solidarity with the pastors and faithful for all they do in these difficult times “marked by the hardships of war, to alleviate the suffering of the population and to seek the ways of peace for the beloved Ukrainian land.”