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Pope Francis promised he would “do everything possible” to establish peace in Ukraine during a private meeting with the country’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk last weekend.
Mr Yatseniuk was in Rome for the canonisations of John Paul II and John XXIII but had to return early to Kiev because of the deepening crisis in the eastern part of Ukraine.
During their 18-minute meeting the two men discussed the specific role that religious organisations could play in fostering mutual respect and harmony. The Vatican said in a statement: “Mention was made of possible further initiatives by the international community in this regard.”
Mr Yatseniuk said that he had asked Pope to pray for his country and for stability in Europe. After meeting the Pope, Yatsenyuk travelled to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic basilica in Rome for a prayer service with the local Ukrainian community. The church was built by Cardinal Iosif Slipyi, who spent 18 years in Soviet gulags. Meanwhile, representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kievan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) expressed concern over alleged attempts to obstruct the functioning of their churches and parishes in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula invaded by Russian troops.
According to UOC-KP’s Archbishop Klyment of Simferopol and Crimea, several of their churches were blocked and priests received threats from the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). Archbishop Klyment sent an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him to guarantee ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea freedom of worship.
Armed men, believed to be Russian soldiers, march at their camp near the Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, Ukraine (CNS photo/David Mdzinarishvili, Reuters)