July 3, 2018


His Beatitude, Sviatoslav, the Father and Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, met with Pope Francis at the St Martha Residence within the Vatican on 3 July 2018. The meeting was initiated by His Beatitude as an event to mark the 1030 years since the historic Baptism of Ukraine at the command of the grand prince St. Volodymyr the Great in 988. He wanted to share with His Holiness once again about the great love that the Ukrainian People have for the Faith and the Church - a love that they have shown by their many martyrs for the Faith - including Winnipeg's first Bishop - Blessed Nykyta Budka martyred in Soviet Karaganda and Blessed Vasyl' Velychkovsky who came to Winnipeg to die after years of persecution and torture for his loyalty to the Catholic Church. The Church leader from Kyiv even presented His Holiness with a Ukrainian Catholic University publication about the Church during the Nazi and Soviet occupations - Persecuted for the Truth.

They both covered many topics that touched upon a wide range of church, social and political interests.

Perhaps in light of recent comments that suggested that the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate still has issues with the Ukrainian Catholic Church (and other sister Orthodox Churches in Ukraine), Pope Francis was especially interested in ecumenical relations between the Ukrainian Catholic Church and other Churches in Ukraine. His Beatitude spoke of the sometimes difficult tensions between the Churches - and he spoke of what he referred to as the "shameful fact of the using of the Holy Sacraments - especially the Holy Mystery of Baptism - for the belittling or negation of the Christian identity of the faithful of certain denominations"

His Beatitude Sviatoslav also explained to the Holy Father about the position of the Ukrainian Catholic Church regarding the ongoing dialogue between the Patriarch of Constantinople and various Orthodox authorities regarding the healing of the rift between Orthodox Churches in Ukraine. He said, that "we look positively upon the effort to overcome the divisions in Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the light of the ancient principle of Salus animarum lex suprema est (the salvation of souls is the greatest law). However, we consider these processes to be an internal matter for the Orthodox parties and in no way do we interfere in these processes and we do not participate in their realization. We are convinced that the civil authorities should ensure the necessary conditions for the free development of all the Churches in our country and it would be unacceptable for them to consider any Church as an [official Church of the state]".

Sviatoslav, the Head of the largest Eastern Catholic Church, also responded to the snub occasionally levelled at Eastern Catholics that their original recognition and even present existence are somehow illegitimate and unacceptable. The idea, held by some, is that Churches (e.g. Orthodox Churches) or jurisdictions thereof (e.g. eparchies) that choose to enter into Communion (i.e. "unite") with the Catholic Church are betraying Orthodoxy by a sneaky and degrading preplanned method that is now sometimes referred to as "Uniatism". The suggestion is that in the past the Church leaders were either hoodwinked by Rome or they sold out for wealth, power or protection. Some Church historians, the odd Catholic among them, argue that purely political motives may have been at the heart of some initiatives to declare full Communion with the See of the successor or Peter. The status of non-Catholic clergy and faithful being recognized as equal to that of the Roman Catholic Church in a predominantly Catholic country after the former "join" the Catholic Church, may have been an incidental positive dividend. However, there is no factual evidence to claim that the spiritual and ecclesiological intentions in seeking Church unity as willed by Christ (John 17:21-23) were not the primary motives.

While speaking with Pope Francis, Sviatoslav raised the point that the Ukrainian Catholic Church, still back in 1993, underwent the process of accepting the Balamand Statement and rejects 'uniatism' as a 'method' for achieving unity among the Christian Churches. He furthermore pointed out that, "particularly obvious is the fact that the greatest act of uniatism in the 20th Century was the 1946 pseudo-Council that took place in Lviv. Those that reproach the Ukrainian Catholic Church regarding uniatism, because of its active ecumenical position and desire to seek ways for union with the Orthodox is nothing but a manipulation of the truth. Eastern Catholic Churches, in themselves, are not some kind of "method", but are vibrant members of Christ's Church that not only have the right to exist, but are called to mission and Evangelical activity!"

Pope Francis, thanked the Ukrainian Catholic Church for its martyrdom, "as a confession of the Christian Faith and a witness that the successor of the Apostle Peter has been charged with the special mission for unity among Christians." The Pope assured the Ukrainian Catholic Church of his support and he expressed his gratitude for the Church's dynamic development and ecumenical openness.

The Holy Father went on to declare that any accusations made in the direction of the Ukrainian Catholic Church regarding uniatism are absolutely baseless. He also thanked the Church for its active participation in the rebuilding of Ukrainian society upon the Church's principles of Catholic social doctrine and its avoiding intrusion into the political process, while promoting true Christian patriotism which in no way should be utilized or distorted to achieve particular ecclesial or ideological goals. Pope Francis in particular praised the Ukrainian Catholic Church for its distancing itself from extreme nationalism and for condemning xenophobia and racism. [e.g. His Beatitude recently issued a statement condemning the attack on a Roma/Gypsy camp near the city of Lviv.]

The Holy Father also expressed his nearness to the Ukrainian People that is presently suffering a painful moment in its history as a sacrifice to unjustified aggression. He promised to keep Ukraine in his thoughts and prayers.

Pope Francis paid particular attention to the theme of Ukrainian-Polish reconciliation. This was especially important in a year when both peoples celebrate the centenary of the renewal of nationhood and the 70th anniversary of the Volyn Tragedy. Pope Francis thanked His Beatitude Sviatoslav for the copy of the publication "Dialogue Heals Wounds" which he considered to be an important contribution toward the healing of the wounds of the past of the two nations. The Holy Father also supported the idea of the preparation of a joint statement by Ukraine's Ukrainian Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches on the tragedy. He also supported the brilliant proposal to proclaim Pope St. John Paul II as the patron for Ukrainian-Polish reconciliation.

The Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church also confirmed that he would accompany the Holy Father and all the participants to Bari, Italy (site of the tomb of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker) where an ecumenical prayer for peace in the Middle East will take place on July 7th.

An agreement was made to hold the 2019 meeting of the Eastern Catholic Bishops of Europe in Rome which Pope Francis said he would attend personally. The principal theme of the meeting is to be, "The Ecumenical Mission Today of Europe's Eastern Catholic Churches".

His Holiness, as is the custom, extended his Apostolic blessing to the Ukrainian nation.

Among the sources used for this write-up: Rome Secretariat of the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

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