.- A bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church called for peace amid escalating conflict with pro-Russian separatists, stating that the Church there is facing increased persecution as fighting goes on.
“Even if it's not announced – it seems like a war against Ukraine,” Monsignor Dionisio Lachovicz told CNA Aug. 28. “I believe that the only hope is in the Lord, therefore we call the whole world to pray for peace.”
Msgr. Lachovicz, apostolic visitor for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Italy and in Spain, explained that in the midst of rising tensions between the Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists “a new persecution is being waged against the Greek Catholics located in the territories in Russian hands.”
These are, he clarified, the areas of “Crimea and in the territories where the Russia-friendly 'separatists' are seeking to impose their power.”
In Donetsk, a large city in Eastern Ukraine, “the bishop's residence has been sacked and sealed. The cathedral's land has been struck by separatist rockets. The bishops and almost all of the Greek-Catholics priests have been forced to leave the area of Donetsk,” the bishop explained.
“The Church has been desecrated by the rebels who blackmail the clergy, threatening reprisals on the parishioners. And only some days ago the monastery of the Servants of God was occupied by separatists.”
According to BBC News, nearly 2,600 people have been killed since April, when Russia's annexation of Crimea prompted rebels to take over large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Heavy fighting continues near Ukraine's strategic Mariupol port, which lays off the Azov Sea. Rebel forces are currently attempting to capture the city, but Ukrainian government troops are holding ground.
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko met Aug. 26 to discuss the ongoing crisis, shaking hands and leaving with Poroshenko’s assurance that a new “roadmap” to peace would be laid out.
However tensions skyrocketed when at least 1,000 Russian troops entered Ukraine two days later, BBC reports, prompting an Aug. 29 emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to address the situation.
“If the Russian Orthodox Church together with all of the Churches in the Ukraine joined together in the name of love in the prayer of Jesus 'that all may be one' to dialogue, then they would reach a much more realistic 'roadmap,'” Msgr. Lachovicz explained.
He lamented the fact that rather than unifying the churches after past quarrels, the current situation is being used to cause greater division, stating that during the 4th European forum for Orthodox-Catholic dialogue last June, the metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for external ecclesiastical relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, “without any documented confirmed accused the Greek Catholic Church 'in the destructive role in the Ukraine crisis.'”
Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has sent a letter “to all of the heads of the Orthodox Churches and to different European political organisms with similar accusations.”
If all sides to the conflict could truly reach an agreement, they “would confirm the simple determination of Pope Francis” that “Nothing is lost with peace,” the bishop observed.
“The attention of Pope Francis to the situation in the Ukraine has always been very great and his messages and prayers, I believe, that soon they will overcome every evil that oppresses the Ukrainian land.”
Explaining how the Ukrainian people as a whole are grateful to Pope Francis, Msgr. Lachovicz also offered special thanks to Mons. Thomas E. Gullickson, apostolic nuncio in Ukraine, who's “messages and appeals are very present and concrete.”
“I would like to invite everyone to pray for peace along with the Holy Father,” the bishop said, “because to make peace requires courage, much more so than to make war.”
“Courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiation and no to hostility, yes to the observance of pacts and no to provocations; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.”
“This is the heartfelt appeal that Pope Francis has addressed to all the Churches of the world.”