While the major archbishop shares concerns about a deeper Russian incursion into the country, he said: “This is not the first time that fear spread: we have been living in conflict for eight years. But, sad to say, people sometimes adapt to the situation, and they live as if there was no war in Ukraine.”
Shevchuk is the past president of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which gathers all the country’s religious groups. He said that in Ukraine, churches have always served as a “hotspot of safety, hope, and reasonable proposals to address difficult situations.”
“Churches and religious organizations are cooperating for the good of the people, at every level: they help to find missing people, they negotiate the liberation of hostages, they commit to providing humanitarian assistance to those in need,” he said.
Asked if ecumenical efforts in the country could work as a “track to diplomacy,” Shevchuk replied that the council is currently drafting a declaration.
“The declaration will be first of all addressed to the faithful, our first interlocutor. We want to prevent their panic, as panic is the worst enemy in this hybrid war we are living in. Because of panic, people bought all food supplies, withdrew money from the bank system, and carried on a series of initiatives that can lead society to collapse,” he said.
Shevchuk added that “as churches, entrusted with a moral authority, we must address the issues of people who are suffering, because living with the fear of losing everything tomorrow is one of the greatest tortures.”
The declaration will also be addressed to Ukrainian politicians, asking them to be united, as well as to international interlocutors, as many ambassadors have sought to engage with church leaders.
Shevchuk underlined that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has a global reach. He mentioned an appeal by the Archieparch Valdomiro Koubetch of Curitiba, which had an “impressive echo in Brazil,” as well as statements issued by Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops in North America.
“They issued their appeals not only as a member of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church but also as a member of the bishops’ conferences of their countries,” he observed.
Pope Francis’ interest in Ukraine has prompted rumors of a possible papal trip to the country. Shevchuk did not confirm the rumors, but said: “We are waiting for him and we will do everything we can so that the pope might visit Ukraine and get in touch with these people he prays for every day, as the pope himself said.”
Ukraine is a majority Orthodox Christian country where ecumenical relations are sometimes difficult. There are also tensions within Orthodoxy: After Bartholomew I of Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate broke ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, accusing it of encroaching on its canonical territory.
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With a second meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow seemingly imminent, Shevchuk said that he was not concerned about the possible outcome.
“We are happy about an eventual meeting since it is good that the mediator meets both parties when there is a conflict,” he commented.
“We know that Pope Francis often meets Patriarch Bartholomew, and we hope that this routine will be replicated with Patriarch Kirill. A meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will give them time to think together, and this will make things clearer for us in Ukraine.”
He added: “These meetings have a prophetic dimension, as they show the will to carry forward a culture of the encounter and dialogue. If there will be a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, it will pave the way for similar meetings at a local level, also in Ukraine.”
Andrea Gagliarducci is an Italian journalist for Catholic News Agency and Vatican analyst for ACI Stampa. He is a contributor to the National Catholic Register.