Ukrainian Church an example of 'synodality' for Pope

His Beatitude Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk Center participates in Pope Francis Wednesday general audience on Nov 27 2013 Credit Kyle Burkhart CNA CNA 12 3 13 Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk (center) participates in Pope Francis' Wednesday general audience on Nov. 27, 2013. | Kyle Burkhart/CNA.

The head of the Ukrainian Church revealed that in a recent private meeting with Pope Francis, the pontiff praised the structure of Eastern Churches for their emphasis on collaboration among bishops.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said his discussion with Pope Francis mainly focused on "the synodality of our Church," as the Pope is looking for ways to "foster the collegiality in the Catholic Church."

"For him," the archbishop told CNA, "the way how we live our synodality as an eastern Catholic Churches is an example."

The private conversation between the archbishop and the Pope took place Nov. 25 after the prelate celebrated a Mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of the transfer of the relics of St. Josaphat – a Ukrainian bishop martyred in the 17th century – to St. Peter's Basilica.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk is the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and was present in Rome for the Nov. 19-21 plenary assembly of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, remaining in Rome afterwards to preside over the special Mass honoring the Ukrainian saint.

Archbishop Shevchuk explained that within the Greek Ukranian Church there are currently 48 bishops, "including an emeritus one," and that normally "each year, world-wide, we have a synod gathering of more or less 35 bishops."

Of these, 30 were present at last week's plenary assembly and "all active synod came to pray together, to listen to the pope and to foster that synodality in his presence."

In wake of these discussions, noted the archbishop, he and the Pope spoke together "about the collegiality and the synodality of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church."

Archbishop Shevchuk also revealed that a key point of discussion in this year's plenary assembly was the grave concern for the Church in the Middle East.

"Today, the Eastern Catholic Churches live three different, I would say, local situations, this is in India, Middle East and Eastern Europe," he said, adding that "we were very much concerned about the Middle East," and that "especially the question of Syria was raised very strongly."

During the meetings, the archbishop emphasized that "we not only prayed together the Divine Liturgy, praying for the peace in Syria but we are also trying to understand what is going on there and how we can show our solidarity and what we as a church in world-wide dimensions can do for them."

A great concern for all of the Eastern Patriarchs, Archbishop Shevchuk noted, is how to organize their "pastoral care," outside the areas of Syria and the Middle East "because there is a massive emigration."

Those who are suffering due to the situation "need to feel the presence of their patriarchs," the archbishop continued, emphasizing the challenges presented to pastoral care "in the territory where there is violence going on."

"In the diaspora" where those who flee their home country are far from their "own structures," it is difficult to know "how to help them to keep their own tradition even where they are going today," the prelate explained.

"So this is world-wide question," he stated, "it was a concern of the Chaldean Church but also the same situation we have as a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church."

"This is the main concern which was expressed and shared among us in those very particular for us days."

Speaking of the significance of the transfer of the relics of St. Josaphat to St. Peter's Basilica fifty years ago, the prelate highlighted how it is a great symbol of unity, because the "unique" Saint worked hard for unity in his life, and is now "present in the St. Peter Basilica, so close to the tomb of St. Peter."

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"Those 50 years," he noted, "were 50 years of studies and reflection about our today's mission as fully oriental church who rediscovers and lives its own spiritual, ascetical, theological and liturgical tradition."

This tradition, continued the archbishop, is one that they "have in common with our Orthodox brethren, but we live that tradition with the full communion with the successor of Peter."

"St. Josaphat is a symbol, a symbol of unity of the Church of Kyiv with the successor of Peter in the ecclesiastical memory, so he sealed in his blood that unity that was subscribed in some, I would say, agreements."

In standing alongside Pope Francis at the altar after the celebration of the anniversary Mass, "we had a possibility to experience that personal vital communion as a synod of the bishops with new elected Pope Francis," Archbishop Shevchuk reflected.

"So St. Josaphat gave us one more gift. That communion for which he died as a martyr, he offer us today in that very unique moment of not only communion, but the meeting of the pope…to listen to him, to see him, to express who we are."

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