Moscow (AsiaNews) – The 87th Plenary Assembly of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO) opened today until Thursday when an audience with Pope Francis will bring the meeting to a close. As expected, the event will focus on the crises in Syria and Iraq, but it will also look at the situation of Greek Catholic Churches in Romania and Ukraine. It will highlight the key priorities of evangelisation and supporting pastoral organisations and workers.
Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč, Mgr Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is among those attending the proceedings. AsiaNews spoke with him about the synod and the situation in Ukraine.Here is the transcript of the interview.
In its final document now being drafted, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will announce a long period of rotating prayers and fasting in all 14 dioceses in the country “until the return of peace,” said Major Archbishop of Kyiv Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
In an interview with AsiaNews, he expressed concern for the fighting in the east, but also confidence that “God is listening to the prayers of the Ukrainian people.”
“Maidan is a great movement of social rebirth, an idea that is still alive. As a Church, we could not stay away,” he said in commenting the Church’s role in street protests, which was strongly criticised by the Russian Orthodox Church, closer in its position to that of the Kremlin.
Your Excellency, updating the ecumenical position of the Greek Catholic Church was at the centre of the last Synod. What was discussed?
Ecumenism is not only an important issue but also an urgent one in the light of recent attacks that our Church received from some brothers. We need to update our ecumenical vision, which was formulated 14 years ago by my predecessor, Card Lubomyr Husar. Precisely because of the centrality of the theme, we held a symposium before our Synod, where we invited some experts on ecumenism in which, among other things, we took stock of the current state of ecumenism, especially in light of recent contacts between the Apostolic See and the Orthodox world, with the Holy Father’s visit to Jerusalem and the prayer for peace with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
What conclusions were drawn?
We have set up a theological commission to update our ecumenical position and we hope to release soon a canonically approved document. The Synod, however, was also a time to share sorrows and concerns. We have thus made an appeal to pray and fast for peace in Ukraine that will be published in a few days.
What will the appeal’s main points?
We have three points.
The first is that we feel the Lord is listening. Despite the difficult times, the people of Ukraine was able to renew the system of government, preserving religious peace and ethnic diversity. We held elections, which gave us a president in the first round, something that never happened in free Ukraine. In all regions, a majority of voters cast their ballots for Petro Poroshenko, showing that Ukraine is not divided. As believers, we interpret this as a miracle.
The second point is that we are aware of the challenges that still lay ahead of us. We cannot not feel pain when we have to help tens of thousands of refugees. We hear almost every day that civilians are abducted and tortured, that heavy weapons are being brought in from across the border. We must be agents of peace and charity.
The third point is, therefore, to announce a period of fasting and prayer, in a specific order. On a rotating basis, one of our 14 dioceses will fast. Each day of the week will be devoted to various intentions of prayer, from the president to the dead, including our opponents.
You have been much criticised by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow for your support of protests in Kyiv’s Maidan Square. What does Maidan mean today?
In order to interpret truthfully the role of the Churches in those events, we must say that Maidan was not a political event, but started as a manifestation of civil society. People who were out on the streets did not stand under the banners of political parties; they called for a renewal of the system of government, of the way of doing politics. For this reason, the Churches felt part of civil society, but rejected backing any political parties. Maidan means a movement of renewal, which still exists. We have seen this with the outcome of the presidential election, which showed that radicals did not monopolise protests. It was a revolution for human dignity, where people expressed their willingness to take the lead in the country’s development.
How does this translate in practical terms today?
Today Maidan means a strong desire to control those in power, the rulers: from the president to the parliament. We are facing an extraordinary awakening of civil society. In this context, our position is to preach the social doctrine of the Church, nothing more. We could not stay away from these events. We were preachers of the Gospel, and the Church says that its social doctrine is a means of evangelisation. We were able to keep religious and ethnic peace, although we were not able to avoid violence.
What are your thoughts with regards to President Poroshenko?
Let us say that the very fact that Ukraine has a legitimately elected president is a very positive thing. He now faces very difficult challenges. We expect him to bring peace to the country. Certainly, he is not a god who can calm tensions in a day, but we all expect that he will find a way to bring the eastern part of the country back to normal.