08 March 2023, The Tablet

Ukraine Church leaders battle to boost morale

“Today, the place of encounter is in the bomb shelters, parishes and homes where we shelter refugees,” said Archbishop Shevchuk.

Ukraine Church leaders battle to boost morale

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk that Ukrainian Christians should be certain that Christ was still “coming today to find disciples”. 
Orest Lyzhechka/Alamy

The head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church has urged his countrymen to continue trusting in God’s support, as commemorations continued for tens of thousands of victims of Russia’s invasion, now in its second year

“Even during war, Christ comes to us where we await him,” Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk said in a sermon on Sunday.

“Today, the place of encounter is in the bomb shelters, parishes and homes where we shelter refugees. Every moment of the Church’s service to war victims becomes such a meeting place.” 

The archbishop, whose Church is in communion with Rome but maintains the eastern rite, spoke as fierce fighting continued for control of the ruined eastern town of Bakhmut.

Further Ukrainian drone attacks were reported inside Russia, amid claims that occupying forces were now running short of arms and equipment.

He said many people had asked whether God was “with us or with our enemies” during the conflict, but added that Ukrainian Christians should be certain that Christ was still “coming today to find disciples”. 

Meanwhile, a leader of Ukraine’s Roman Catholic Church requested special prayers for defenders of Bakhmut, where thousands of soldiers have died in nine months of fighting.

Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi of Kyiv-Zhytomyr added that his Church sought to maintain “normal pastoral services” for many Ukrainians who had begun attending religious services under the pressure of war.  

“While some have also returned to the sacraments after many years, there are also those who've walked away from God, asking where he was when this war began, and when their parents or children were killed,” he told Vatican Radio at the weekend. 

“We now conduct our ministry in a slightly different spirit, talking continually about how to find courage and strength from God... We are in unity with our people and government, and we pray for strength for everyone defending Ukraine today.” 

The appeals were issued as representatives of all Churches prayed for victims of recent Russian missile attacks on civilian targets in Zaporizhzhia and Kramatorsk.

A group of 30 military chaplains from various denominations has begun training in front-line survival, following May 2022 regulations bringing chaplaincy work into line with Nato standards.

Meanwhile, local councils continued to demand curbs on Ukrainian Orthodox communities maintaining loyalty to the Moscow patriarchate, as government-backed legislation to ban the Moscow-linked Church neared parliamentary enactment.

In a weekend statement, Ukraine’s SBU security service said Orthodox priests and bishops were among 600 citizens identified as Russian agents and 1,200 as “internet propagandists”, of whom 340 had so far faced court charges.

The culture ministry said that 505 cultural objects had so been destroyed and a further 800 damaged since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, mostly in the Kyiv, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Luhansk and Mykolaiv regions.

Addressing 120 participants at a Ukrainian Catholic international online forum on Saturday, called in preparation for next October’s synod in Rome, Archbishop Shevchuk said victory would mean “not just the expulsion of Russian troops, but also an ability to cope with war trauma”, adding that his Church was currently training priests in “healing war wounds”. 

The Swiss-based Council of European Bishops Conferences noted on Sunday that each of Europe’s 39 bishops conferences had agreed to lead daily prayers for Ukraine throughout Lent.

Candles with the image of the Ukrainian flag will be lit during Lent at Catholic schools and parishes across France as part of a fundraising campaign. 

In a weekend message from their Dresden plenary, Germany’s Catholic bishops said it was now clear that Russia’s invasion had been intended to secure the whole of Ukraine’s “submission and oppression”, adding that “at stake” was “the continued existence of a free nation with an independent culture”.

The bishops added that Ukraine’s “determined defensive struggle” had amazed the world, but said diplomacy and “responsible decision-making” were also needed to end the war

“The war against Ukraine has acquired paramount historical significance by tearing away the cornerstones of the international world of states and attacking the European peace order head-on – if it is accepted that recognised state borders can be altered by force, no country on our continent will be safe and everyone’s freedom will be threatened”, they said.

“But escalation scenarios must be recognised and excluded as far as possible. Above all, everything should be done that a regional war does not lead to a world war and the use of weapons of mass destruction.” 

Vatican Radio cited evidence last week that 6,000 deported Ukrainian children are being held at Russian detention centres, but said young people had also been taken from Ukrainian orphanages and schools, suggesting the numbers were “much higher”.

In a separate report, Unicef said almost eight million Ukrainian children were “living in conditions of war”, with 3.5 million needing “urgent humanitarian help” and 1.5 million facing “traumatic and depressive disorders”.

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