For the first time in 70 years, the bishops of the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine were able to pay a visit to the tomb of St. Peter and to meet with his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.
“You are welcome, dear brothers, in this house in which intense and incessant prayers have always been said for the beloved Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine," the Pope told the bishops.
The ‘ad limina’ visit comes after years of limited freedom for the Greek-Catholic Church.
"Now that your Churches have rediscovered their complete freedom", the Pope said, "you are here to represent your communities, reborn and vibrant in the faith, which have never ceased to feel their full communion with Peter's Successor.”
Benedict XVI praised the prelates' "generous efforts and tireless testimony" in their dealings "with your people and the Church", reminding them that in their missionary and pastoral duties "priests are of indispensable assistance". Hence, the Pope invited the bishops to ensure that priests, "in the various initiatives of 'aggiornamento' (a term from Vatican II referring to “updating”), do not follow the novelties of the world but present society with the responses that only Christ can give to the hopes for justice and peace in the human heart".
The Holy Father also called upon the bishops to seek out collaboration with the Latin rite bishops in their country to provide priests with courses of spiritual exercises, formation and theological and pastoral renewal. “It cannot be denied that such collaboration between the two rites would lead to greater harmony of heart among those who serve the one Church,” the Pope said.
"I am certain that, with such an inward attitude, any misunderstandings will be more easily resolved, in the awareness that both rites belong to the one Catholic community and that both have full and equal citizenship in the one Ukrainian people", he added. In this context, the Pope recommended that the Greek-rite prelates "meet regularly, for example one a year, with the Latin bishops".
The Holy Father then went on to consider the difficulties faced by Ukrainian bishops "as regards the responsible obedience of male and female religious, and their co-operation in the needs of the Church. With the magnanimity of pastors and the patience of fathers, exhort these brothers and sisters tirelessly to defend the 'non-secular' nature of their vocation" and "faithfully to observe their vows ... so they can provide the Church with the particular testimony that is asked of them".
Turning to the topic of ecumensim, the Pope noted that "real and objective obstacles persist. However", he said, "it is important not to lose heart in the face of the difficulties, but to continue along the journey that began with prayer and patient charity".
"Before anything else, what must be promoted is the ecumenism of love" which, "accompanied by coherent actions, creates trust and causes hearts and eyes to open. By its nature, charity promotes and illuminates the dialogue of truth," he said.
Benedict XVI concluded his talk by giving thanks to God "for the rebirth of Your Church after the dramatic period of persecution. On this occasion I feel the need to assure you (bishops) that the Pope carries you all in his heart, he accompanies you affectionately and supports you in your difficult mission".