Pope Francis speaks with Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych during a private meeting at the Vatican earlier this month.
CNS photo/Vatican Media
Ukraine’s Greek Catholic archbishop has welcomed a message from Pope Francis deploring the “absurd madness of war” unleashed on his country, while also urging its leaders to take “far-sighted decisions” to bring about peace.
“While the Pope’s words will touch our long-suffering people, we also hope they'll be heard by those who started this unjust war”, said Archbishop Svietoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halich. “Leaders of the aggressor state have denied our right to exist, with our identity, culture, language and church, whereas Pope Francis appeals to our people, recognising our state’s sovereignty and subjectivity and expressing admiration for the Ukrainian people’s resilience.”
The archbishop said he was grateful for the 84-year-old pontiff’s “expressions of support and solidarity” in the message, published last Friday on the Vatican’s website, adding that he had told Francis about the “terrible consequences of crimes by Russian soldiers against the civilian population” during a Vatican meeting on 7 November.
In his message, the Pope said he had heard “tragic stories” of war suffering from various cities, including the plight of children and young people forced “to take up arms instead of realising their dreams”, as well as of bereaved wives and mothers, and elderly people “thrown into the dark night of war”.
However, he added that those governing Ukraine should also take “far-sighted decisions for peace and economic development” when so much “vital infrastructure” was being destroyed and said he was again dedicating Ukraine and Russia to the Virgin Mary.
“In the cross of Jesus today, I see those suffering from the terror unleashed by this aggression – the cross that tortured the Lord lives again in the tortures found on corpses in mass graves discovered in different cities, in the many bloody images that have entered our souls”, Francis told Ukrainians.
“Despite the immense tragedy they suffer, the Ukrainian people have never been discouraged or yielded to self-pity. The world has recognised a bold and strong people, a people who suffer and pray, cry and fight, resist and hope: a noble and martyred people.”
On Monday, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Richard Paul Gallagher, told Italy’s Il Giornale daily he believed peace remained the “deepest desire” of the “two warring nations”, adding that the Vatican was still ready to mediate and “offer its spaces” if both sides requested this.
The Liverpool-born diplomat said the Pope had already offered humanitarian help and helped arrange prisoner swaps, by keeping open the Vatican’s “channels of diplomatic communication”.
However, Ukraine’s TV-24 news station said Ukrainians had waited nine months since Russia’s brutal 24 February invasion for a message from the Pope, adding that Francis had previously been criticised for “scandalous statements” praising Russia as a “great nation” with “humane attitudes”, and calling for negotiations “while Russian missiles were flying at Ukrainian cities to kill Ukrainians”.
Aid organisations have warned of worsening winter conditions across Ukraine, amid heavy Russian shelling of recently recaptured Kherson and missile attacks on energy and water supplies in Kyiv and other cities.
The Catholic Caritas-Spes charity said it was already overhelmed by needs in the Black Sea port of Odessa, including those of displaced mothers with children, many injured and grieving for family members.
In Kharkiv, the Caritas director, Fr Wojciech Stasiewicz, told Vatican Radio lack of electricity and heating had prevented children from attending online classes in city basements, while the London-based Save the Children confirmed that over 900 children were still being born each day in Ukraine, despite the hundreds already killed and the destruction of medical facilities.
Preaching on Saturday, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, said Russia’s “diabolical war” against Ukraine recalled the Holodmor, or great famine, imposed by the Soviet regime in 1932-33, and was proving “similar in its barbarity”.
However, Patriarch Kirill of Russia again prayed for his country’s victory over “those wishing to fight against Holy Rus” and “divide and destroy her one people” during a service in Peredelkino, adding that he hoped “warriors and defenders of the Fatherland” who were killed in the war would be granted “forgiveness of their sins” by God.