05 October 2023, The Tablet

Unity ‘key to victory’ says Shevchuk

“God is calling our soldiers forward to defeat death with life, to bring light where there is darkness, to remain human in inhuman circumstances.”

Unity ‘key to victory’ says Shevchuk

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halyc, in Rome earlier this month.
Independent Photo Agency/Alamy Live News

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has praised continued resistance against Russia’s invasion and occupation, as foreign diplomats and officials voiced fears of a wavering in Western support.

“Once again, we thank our soldiers for showing the whole world what Ukraine is capable of – its invincibility and strong spirit,” Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said in a national message on Sunday.

“God is calling them forward to defeat death with life, to bring light where there is darkness, to remain human in inhuman circumstances – to uphold the space for freedom where the Russian invader seeks to bring captivity and slavery.”

Shevchuk issued the appeal to mark the first Defenders of Ukraine Day on Sunday, when the nation held a minute’s silence.  He said national unity and solidarity remained the “key to victory”, adding that the tens of thousands killed in Ukraine’s “unequal battle with the Russian aggressor” should be remembered alongside those of previous generations who fell in “national liberation struggles”.

Meanwhile, the leader of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) said the country had found itself at war “not of its own will, but because of another hateful human ideology” associated with Russian dominance.

“This ideology is the same as that of Nazism, based on lies and hatred  which justify violence, murder, war and genocide,” said Metropolitan Epiphany, whose OCU was admitted last week to the Geneva-based Conference of European Churches.

“As of today, it is unknown how many of our brothers and sisters are facing torture, or lying in ‘fraternal graves’ in the occupied territories – just for being Ukrainians, for living on their land in their own homes. It is unknown because the war goes on.”

The messages appeared as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged visiting European Union foreign ministers to maintain their backing for Ukraine, after the US Congress omitted war aid from a weekend spending bill, highlighting uncertainties over how long Kyiv's Western allies would continue supplying military equipment.

Speaking on Monday, however, the EU’s Spanish foreign policy director, Josep Borrell, said the bloc's 27 member-states remained “unwaveringly committed” and outlined a new €5 billion defence and training support package, while praising Zelensky's 10-point peace plan, tabled last spring.

During a visit to Odessa, Borrell also condemned the “barbaric destruction” of the Black Sea port's historic Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral in a Russian rocket attack in July.  Another Orthodox cathedral in Kherson also suffered further rocket damage on Monday morning.

In an appeal, Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Organisations urged the EU, United States and NATO to continue supplying Patriot, Hawk, Avenger and other air defence systems, as well as F16 fighter jets and radars for missile interception.

“With the onset of cold weather, Russia will once again resort to energy terror, trying to destroy critical civilian infrastructure and energy facilities – Ukrainians risk being left without heating and electricity,” said the council, whose members include Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims, as well as Ukraine's two rival Orthodox Churches.

“We call on the free democratic world to help protect Ukraine's skies from Russian missiles and kamikaze drones as soon as possible...The war in Ukraine is not a reality TV show – every day, Russia ruthlessly kills civilians and continues committing genocide before the whole world.”

The head of the Polish bishops’ conference has warned that the Vatican’s diplomatic neutrality may repeat the mistakes of its “Ostpolitik” during the Cold War, when it negotiated with communist regimes.

Treating the aggressor and the victim the same way is a mistake,” Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan told the German Catholic weekly Die Tagepost.

He said that Russia “is denying the Ukrainian people the right to exist” and would not be placated: “If Russia were to win the war, it wouldn't abandon its ambitions to reclaim the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.”

Archbishop Gadecki compared the Vatican’s position to the compromises it made with the Soviet regime in the 1960s and ’70s, which he said failed to improve “the desperate situation of the Church” because “the communists in power mostly didn’t keep their promises”.

Addressing a peace conference last week at Hungary’s Benedictine Pannonhalma monastery, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew criticised the Russian Orthodox Church for continuing to support the invasion of Ukraine, adding that it was unacceptable when religious leaders fanned “flames of hatred” instead of “acting as forces for peace and reconciliation”.

However, in a sermon on Sunday in Krasnodar, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow urged Russians to “have no fear in defending the motherland”.

“Such fear can inflict enormous suffering on many people, because it often forces them to ignore their oath and violate their duty, and not just on the battlefield,” the Russian patriarch said.

“Fear distorts human relationships, introduces suspicion and mistrust, and destroys the healthy fabric of relationships. It can lead to the destruction of oneself, of loved ones and relatives, of the motherland itself and even of the Church.”

In a weekend message, the Catholic military chaplaincy of the Archdiocese of Lviv said people “of different nationalities and religions” had also united in defending Ukraine's “right to statehood and freedom”, and urged the country's armed forces to go on “protecting our children’s peaceful future from a lying and insidious enemy”.

Taras Dobko, the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, told The Tablet that churches and universities needed to continue operating “to win the peace”.

“We cannot put the burden on another generation,” he said.  “It is up to us to prepare a plan for recovery after the war.”

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