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Ukrainian Catholic Leader Invites Pope

23 Feb 2015 – By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church invited Pope Francis to visit the war-torn nation, saying it would help bring peace.

“It would be a prophetic gesture that would show the power of prayer and Christian solidarity, give us courage and hope and build a better future for everyone,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych.

On behalf of Catholics, Orthodox Christians and “people of goodwill” in Ukraine, the archbishop personally invited the pope, telling journalists on 23 February that such a visit would “bring peace to that part of Eastern Europe soaked with the blood of so many martyrs for the unity of the church.”

The archbishop was in Rome following an “ad limina” visit 16-21 February in which bishops from Ukraine’s Eastern- and Latin-rite traditions reported to the pope and the Vatican on the state of their dioceses.

Archbishop Shevchuk spoke to journalists about the bishops’ 20 February meeting with Pope Francis.

He said the pope “truly listened to us with a paternal heart,” asking to hear about how the Ukrainian people, including their “Orthodox brothers and sisters,” were facing the current conflict and crisis.

After their closed-door talks with the pope, Archbishop Shevchuk said the “our bishops felt not only welcomed, but also encouraged and above all reaffirmed that we have taken the right position” during the recent turmoil in Ukraine — that is, the position of “being at the side of one’s people, having the smell of sheep, listening carefully to the voice of our people — this is what the Holy Father asks us to do.”

“Ukraine is the victim” in this war with Russia, and “often Ukrainians feel abandoned, betrayed by politicians, big diplomats by the powerful of this world.” But he said their meeting with the pope left them feeling that “the Holy Father is with us, he gives witness to us that God is always on the side of those who suffer,” he said. “We go home full of hope.”

In a written address that was handed out to the bishops, the pope them to focus on the social and human tragedies unfolding in their country and avoid politicizing their role as church leaders. He asked the bishops to work together and be a clear moral voice calling for peace and harmony as well as strong defenders of families, the poor and weak.

The pope assured the bishops of his prayers and concerns about the “serious conflict” in their nation and the numerous innocent victims and suffering it has caused.

“In this period, as I have assured you on many occasions directly and through cardinal envoys, I am particularly close to you with my prayer for the deceased and for all those affected by the violence, with prayer to the Lord that he may soon grant peace,” he said.

Pope Francis said he continues to appeal to “all sides concerned” to respect international law and carry out their agreements, especially a recent cease-fire deal.

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Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Christian Unity Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk