At a press conference yesterday, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuck, head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, said a two-day meeting with Pope Francis and curial leaders represents a "new methodology" for relations between the Holy See and the "sui iuris" Eastern Churches.
The unprecedented meeting was called for by Pope Francis himself, with the intention of conveying his closeness to the Ukrainian Church. A statement from the Holy See Press Office said that the Pope, with his collaborators in the Roman Curia, showed "his appreciation for the history of this Church; its spiritual, liturgical, theological and canonical traditions; and its fidelity to communion with the Successor of Peter, confirmed and sealed with the blood of the martyrs."
Archbishop Shevchuck said that the meeting showed the Pope's "support for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church; to confirm his closeness to our church; and through this […] closeness, this conversation, this encounter, the closeness of the Holy Father to all the Ukrainian people who are suffering from war." He noted that Pope Francis was personally present during the two days of meetings.
The main focus of the meeting, Archbishop Sviatoslav said, was to consider the question of "how to create the necessary conditions for the development of our Church?" The question, he explained, arises from the rejection of the method of so-called "uniatism" as a means to bring about "the full and visible unity of the Church of Christ."
Archbishop Sviatoslav said that the Pope's answer to that question, not only to the UGCC, but to the other Eastern Churches as well, was very clear, eloquent, and symbolic: "The Pope desires that our Church, but also the other Eastern Catholic Churches, should develop and flourish."
The Major Archbishop also noted that the meeting with the Pope included not only himself, and the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, but also the Metropolitan Archbishops from around the world, who represent the "globality" of the Church.
In response to a journalist's question at the press conference, Major Archbishop Shevchuk said that the Bishops had invited the Pope to Ukraine, with the hope that a papal visit might be "a very eloquent and symbolic possibility" for an end to the hybrid war in the eastern part of the country. He said the Pope had replied that he would consider a visit. The Major Archbishop noted that Ukraine has now been suffering the consequences of war in the east for five years, and is facing a humanitarian crisis.
In the context of the ongoing conflict, he said, the eleven Ukrainian Greek-Catholic parishes in the war zone continue to operate, providing a witness of hope in a perilous situation. The priests who serve those parishes are not able to do much, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav said, "but their presence among the people is a proof that God has not abandoned them.
The crisis in the eastern Ukraine was one of the other main themes of the meeting, said Major Archbishop Shevchuk. He warned of an environmental disaster: "In a few months, we will have an ecological catastrophe, because almost four million people will no longer have access to drinking water.
Among the other topics addressed at the meeting was the question of ecumenism. More than 70% of Ukrainians are Orthodox, while Catholics represent about 14% of the population.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav also answered a question about the possibility of the concession of the patriarchate to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, a topic that has been discussed for many years. He said that they are already "like a patriarchate", but made no mention of any decisions or discussions with the Holy See on that issue.
In the context of the recent election of President Volodymyr Zelensky, and upcoming parliamentary consultations scheduled for 21 July, Major Archbishop Shevchuk said the UGCC has called for "more efficient" institutions, working in favour of the poor and defenceless. He emphasized the important values highlighted in Catholic social teaching, especially the dignity of human persons, the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity. He expressed concern about the high number of Ukrainians emigrating from the country each year, and urged investment in Ukraine to create new jobs.
According to the Press Office statement: "the reflection was carried out with mutual listening, and was accompanied by prayer." Major Archbishop Sviatoslav likewise emphasized the importance of listening and reflecting, and added that this method should result in action.
He expressed his hope that this "new methodology" might continue in the future, both for the UGCC and for the other Eastern Catholic Churches, as a means of fostering their identity and mission.
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