Major archbishop thanks Pope Francis for support as Ukraine faces multiple crises

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, meets Pope Francis, Nov. 11, 2021 Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, meets Pope Francis, Nov. 11, 2021. | Vatican Media.

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has thanked Pope Francis for his support as Ukraine struggles with multiple crises.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk expressed his gratitude to the pope in a private audience at the Vatican on Nov. 11, the Church’s information department reported.

Shevchuk, who has led the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome since 2011, said that in post-Soviet countries the rich were growing richer and the poor even poor.

He told the pope that the war in the east of the country was just one of the challenges confronting Ukraine’s 43 million population. The middle class was vanishing, he said, as small and medium-sized businesses were swallowed up by a small number of oligarchs.

The major archbishop said that poverty was rising fast and people were afraid of the coming winter amid an energy crisis.

He thanked the pope for his prayers and his charitable support for Ukraine, which has helped more than a million people.

“The Pope for Ukraine campaign has become not only a real tool of your solidarity with our people but also helped our Caritas-Ukraine develop its own charity network, in particular in the Donbas,” Shevchuk told the pope, referring to a war-torn eastern region of the country.

Pope Francis has repeatedly appealed for peace in Ukraine, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have clashed since February 2014.

In a Regina Coeli address in April, he expressed alarm about a build-up of troops on the border between the two countries.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said at the time that the Vatican would be the “ideal place” for peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During his papal audience, the major archbishop noted that around 10 million people had left Ukraine since the declaration of independence in 1991 amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

“Our Church continues to follow its faithful from the first migration waves to this day,” he told the pope, noting that the Church’s next patriarchal council would be dedicated to the theme “Your Church is always and everywhere with you.”

The Church’s information service said that Pope Francis praised leaders’ commitment to pastoral care for diaspora communities.

“This is exactly what the synodal road is in action, when you search for your faithful, follow them and try to serve them,” the information service quoted him as saying.

Shevchuk thanked the pope for establishing an apostolic exarchate for Byzantine Rite Ukrainian Catholics in Italy in 2019.

“We see that our faithful need the presence of their Church and new, more effective ways to organize our Church life,” he commented.

The pope and the major archbishop also discussed a pastoral letter recently issued by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

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Shevchuk said: “One of the priorities of the pastoral plan is the healing of various kinds of wounds: those that were provoked in different periods of the history of our people, and modern ones caused by the abuse of Church power, and so on.”

“These wounds require immediate treatment. We strive to bend over the wounds of modern man, to be sensitive to his needs, to discover for him the cure of Divine Grace and Holy Sacraments.”

The two men also discussed the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on Ukraine, which has recorded more than 3.4 million COVID-19 infections and 83,609 related deaths as of Nov. 18, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The 51-year-old major archbishop said that many Catholics were engaged in a campaign called “Feed the Poor”

“Feeling the Christian need for solidarity with the poor, many of our faithful returned from ‘online’ to parish life precisely because of this initiative,” he said.

Shevchuk has previously expressed hope that Pope Francis will visit Ukraine. The 84-year-old pope has outlined ambitious travel plans for 2022 but has not commented recently on a possible visit to the Eastern European country.

John Paul II was the first pope of the modern era to visit Ukraine, which borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia.

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In his arrival speech in the capital, Kyiv, on June 23, 2001, he recalled that two previous popes were deported to present-day Ukraine.

He said: “History has recorded the names of two Roman Pontiffs who, in the distant past, came this far: St. Clement I at the end of the first century and St. Martin I in the mid-seventh. They were deported to the Crimea, where they died as martyrs.”

During the five-day visit, the Polish pope sought to reach out to Orthodox Christians, who represent roughly two-thirds of the population.

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