When 12 Greek Catholic bishops from Ukraine met with the Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday (Sept. 10), the retired pontiff invited them to be a force for unity in today’s “increasingly fractured and divided world.”
Benedict, and other Vatican leaders, had a particular part of the world in mind.
Located on the fault line between East and West, Ukraine is the epicenter of tensions that have not spared the region’s Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches.
But, strengthened by the ties forged in Rome in the past week, in which 47 bishops of the largest Eastern Catholic church met in Rome, including 10 from the U.S. and Canada, Ukraine’s Greek Catholics are poised to become the Vatican’s voice in Eastern Europe.
“He made a crown out of all the experiences we have lived in these days,” said Sviatoslav Shevchuk, archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, of Benedict during a press conference at the Vatican the following day.
“The Emeritus Pope voiced his deep concern for the militarization of the Eastern Front,” Shevchuk said. “It awakens in him the bad memories of the time preceding the First and Second World Wars.”
The political situation in Ukraine escalated sharply in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea and sent troops to support a rebellion in the eastern part of the country. Since then, a surge of violence, coupled with rising poverty levels and the ecological consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, have contributed to a brewing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
Despite lingering resentments from persecution under the Soviets, the Catholic community in Ukraine has already been influential in cooling tensions between Ukrainian nationalists and separatists loyal to Moscow.
On Sept. 7, Kyiv and the Kremlin exchanged 35 war prisoners, a deal that, Shevchuk maintains, would not have been possible without the intervention of the Catholic Ukrainian community.
“We collaborated at all levels to free the prisoners,” he said, while adding that “human life cannot be used as a bargaining chip.”
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Source: Religion News Service