13 September 2023, The Tablet

Francis promises bishops: ‘I am with Ukraine’

Francis acknowledged that “the fact that you doubted whom the Pope is with was particularly painful for the Ukrainian people”.

Francis promises bishops: ‘I am with Ukraine’

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk (centre) with his fellow bishops at a Ukrainian divine liturgy in St Peter’s on 10 September.
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church / CNA

Pope Francis told the bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church that he is “with the Ukrainian people” during the synod in Rome last week, in the wake of controversy over his praise of Russian culture.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Ukrainian Catholic primate, had said ahead of the meeting that the Pope “is a great expert in listening and a maestro of gestures” but claimed that “the whole world is beginning to rediscover the criminal past of the Russian empire”.

This followed outrage in Ukraine at Francis’ praise of “Great Mother Russia” in an address to Russian Catholic youth.

Shevchuk said he expected the Pope “to make a gesture to our long-suffering people that will be more eloquent than hundreds of words spoken or written”. 

During the two-hour meeting with Francis on 6 September, the bishops told him that some of his statements “are painful and difficult for the Ukrainian people”.

According to Shevchuk, Francis acknowledged that “the fact that you doubted whom the Pope is with was particularly painful for the Ukrainian people”.

“I want to assure you of my solidarity with you and constant prayerful closeness. I am with the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Francis also showed the bishops an icon of the Theotokos which Shevchuk – who was then a bishop in the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy in Argentina – had given him when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  He said he prayed for Ukraine before it every day.

The bishops presented Francis with a cross, rosary and prayerbook belonging to two Redemptorist priests held captive by Russian forces since last November, along with a fire-damaged icon of Christ from a church in the Zaporizhzhia region destroyed by shelling.

More than 2,500 people attended a Ukrainian divine liturgy celebrated by the bishops in St Peter’s the next day, which marked the four-hundredth anniversary of the canonisation of St Josaphat – the first individual from an Eastern Church in communion with Rome to be canonised by the Holy See.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99