12 March 2022, The Tablet

Two senior cardinals visit Ukraine refugees

Archbishop Shevchuk called once again for a no-fly zone: “The skies over Ukraine must be closed.”

Two senior cardinals visit Ukraine refugees

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Eastern-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church, waves to a child as he and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, left, the papal almoner, visit with Ukrainian refugees in Lviv, Ukraine.
CNS photo/courtesy Ukrainian Catholic Church

Two senior cardinals have visited refugees in Ukraine and bordering countries as the Church increased its support for civilians caught in the conflict.

Throughout the week Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ, the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development, was visiting refugees and aid workers in Hungary and western Ukraine, while on Wednesday, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Pope’s almoner, travelled to Lviv in Western Ukraine. 

Cardinal Krajewski, who heads the Office of Papal Charities, met Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, the Roman rite Metropolitan of Lviv, and Major Archbishop Swiatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. 

Archbishop Shevchuk had driven to the meeting from besieged Kyiv. He called once again for a no-fly zone: “The skies over Ukraine must be closed.”

Cardinal Krajewski said that “the help of the Vatican is not just spiritual”. “The Holy Father just bought gasoline for the trucks that drive to Kyiv, Odessa, Zhytomyr,” he told reporters. He also expressed his anger with the Russian president Vladimir Putin: “I am simply mad. I am so mad at the man who causes such a pain, my heart is bleeding.”

The cardinal presided at an ecumenical service in St George’s Cathedral in Lviv, alongside the two archbishops. Orthodox bishops also attended the service, including some belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate.

The presence of Moscow-affiliated clergy was particularly noted as their division from the Kiev Patriarchate, established in 2018, becomes increasingly fraught. While many have stopped praying for the Moscow Patriarch Kirill in their liturgy, there are reports of increasing popular suspicion of priests perceived as loyal to Russia.

“A divided church is a scandal,” Cardinal Krajewski said. “Through faith, we can move mountains. I believe in that. Even more so to stop a stupid war.”

On Thursday, as negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian diplomats failed to make progress, the cardinal told reporters that he “came here with the logic of the Gospel” and commended “the three most sophisticated weapons in the world: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving”.

He announced his plan to leave Lviv and travel as far east into Ukraine as possible. 

In Budapest, Cardinal Czerny emphasised that the Vatican was committed to a long-term response to the depredations of the war. “It would be sad to respond to the emergency and then go back to the poor, disjointed life that so many live and suffer in this world,” he said.

More than two million refugees are estimated to have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion on 24 February, with many more displaced within the country. Cardinal Czerny said that “to encounter the refugees is in fact to encounter the war”.

The apostolic nuncio to Ukraine said the war was “not a purely human invention, there is something demonic about it”. Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, who remains in the nunciature in Kyiv, said that “this is a tragedy we need to face together” and described “optimism among many people, especially the priests and religious”.

The Vatican’s diplomats have been increasingly vocal in response to reports of Russian attacks on civilians. On Wednesday the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, condemned the destruction of a maternity hospital in Mariupol as an “unacceptable attack on civilians” and reiterated the Holy See’s desire to mediate negotiations.

Following the bombardment of Mariupol, Archbishop Shevcuk said that the “City of Mary” had become “a cemetery for tens of thousands of people”. In a statement on Friday he said that the invasion was “becoming a war primarily against the civilian, peaceful population”.

Cardinal Parolin also criticised Patriarch Kirill, who he said was enflaming tensions. On Monday, EU bishops addressed a letter to the patriarch, saying that he was “someone who could bring a sign of hope” and encouraging him to “address an urgent appeal to Russian authorities immediately to stop the hostilities against the Ukrainian people”.

However, on Wednesday the patriarch blamed the war on a “large-scale geopolitical strategy aimed at weakening Russia” in his reply to a letter from the World Council of Churches, which had similarly pleaded for his intervention.

Patriarch Kirill asserted that Ukrainians and Russians are one people, and accused western powers of attempting “to ‘re-educate’, mentally to remake Ukrainian and Russians living in Ukraine into enemies of Russia”.

“Russophobia is spreading across the western world at an unprecedented pace,” he said.

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