Papal Letter Marks Commemoration of Famine in Ukraine

«May This Never Be Repeated Again!»

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LVIV, Ukraine, NOV. 26, 2003 ( Here is a translation of the Ukrainian-language text of a letter from John Paul II for the commemorations of the Stalin-engineered famine that killed millions of Ukrainians.

The text of the letter dated Nov. 23 was released through the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

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Highly honored Brothers
Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, Major Archbishop of Lviv for Ukrainians,
Marian Cardinal Jaworski, Archbishop of Lviv for the faithful of the Latin rite,

1. Recalling the dramatic events of a nation, besides the fact that it is simply a necessity, as never before shows itself to be beneficial in stirring up a desire in new generations so that under all circumstances they become watchful guardians of respect for the dignity of every human being. Prayer for the repose of the souls of the dead follows from such recollection, and it becomes for the faithful a balm that softens the pain and becomes active prayer to God, who is «The Lord of all the living,» so that He would grant eternal rest to all those who were unjustly deprived of the gift of life. Appropriate memory of the past, in the end, brings about the ability to pass the boundaries of one nation, going out to other peoples who were also the victims of fatal events and who, sharing grief, can receive consolation.

So, the 70th anniversary of the sad events of the famine-genocide call forth such feelings in my soul: millions of people suffered a terrible death through the pernicious activities of an ideology that throughout the 20th century became the cause of suffering and grief in many parts of the world. On this occasion, Honored Brothers, I wish to participate spiritually in the memorial ceremonies that will be held in honor of the countless victims of the great famine that occurred in Ukraine during the reign of the communist regime. I speak of the terrible plan carried out with cold calculation by those in power in that era.

2. Returning to those sad events, Honored Brothers, I ask you to express to the civil authorities and your fellow citizens, who are especially dear to me, my solidarity and participation in prayer. These planned memorials are intended to commemorate the victims of the country’s children, to strengthen true love for the homeland. This is not directed against other nations, but, rather, hopes to revitalize in the human soul feelings of the dignity of every human being, regardless of which nation he or she belongs to.

The persuasive words of my predecessor, Pope Pius XI of blessed memory, come to mind, as he was considering the policies of the Soviet government of the time. He saw a distinct difference between the rulers and the ruled and, at that time as he spoke in defense of the latter, he clearly revealed the responsibility of a system that «ignores the true origin and purpose of the State; because it denies the rights, dignity and liberty of human personality.» (Encyclical «Divini Redemptoris» [March 19, 1937], 14)

In connection with this, how can one fail to recall the destruction of so many families, the suffering of countless orphans, the collapse of all social structures? Feeling close to all those who suffered the consequences of the sad events of 1933, I again wish to confirm the necessity of preserving the memory of these facts, so that yet another time together it may be said: May this never be repeated again! Becoming aware of the mistakes of the past becomes a constant stimulus for building a future that is more suited to human needs. This combats any ideology that distorts the life, dignity and proper desires of the human being.

3. The experience of this tragedy should today guide the feelings and activities of the Ukrainian people on the road to concord and cooperation. Unfortunately, communist ideology has left its mark with deep divisions also in the spheres of social and religious life. It is necessary to make efforts for a sincere and active reconciliation: in this way the victims, who belong to the whole Ukrainian nation, can be properly honored.

The Christian feeling of sorrow for those who died as a consequence of insane, death-dealing plans, should be accompanied by a desire to build a society in which the common good, natural law, justice for all, and human rights will be the constant guides for the active renewal of the hearts and minds of all those who have the honor to belong to the Ukrainian nation. In this way, recalling the past becomes a source of inspiration for present and future generations.

4. During my unforgettable visit to your country two years ago, speaking of the sorrowful period that Ukraine suffered through 70 years ago, I recalled «the terrible years of the Soviet dictatorship and the dreadful famine at the beginning of the 1930s, when Ukraine, ‘the breadbasket of Europe,’ was no longer able to feed its own children, who died by the millions.» (Meeting with representatives of the worlds of politics, culture, science and business at the Presidential Palace in Kyiv, June 23, 2001)

We hope that, with God’s assistance, the lessons of history will help us to find lasting encouragement for mutual understanding. I have in mind constructive collaboration, in order to build together a country which will develop on every level in a harmonious and peaceful manner.

Achieving this noble goal depends, first of all, on Ukrainians, to whom has been entrusted the preservation of the Eastern Christian tradition and responsibility for developing it into an original union of culture and civilization. This is a special inheritance, which Ukraine is called to carry into the construction of the «common European home,» in which each nation will be able to find an appropriate reception with respect for the values of its own originality.

5. Honored Brothers, on such an exceptional occasion, how can we not return in thought to the planting of the Gospel carried out by Saints Cyril and Methodius? How can we not anew recall with gratitude the witness of St. Volodymyr and his grandmother, St. Olha, through whose mediation the Lord granted your people the grace of Baptism and new life in Christ? With soul enlightened by the Gospel, it is possible to better understand how it is necessary to love one’s homeland, so that it actively makes its contribution as it progresses on the road of culture and civilization. Membership in a certain nation should be accompanied by sacrificial efforts and the sincere exchange of gifts received as an inheritance from previous generations, in order to build a society open to other peoples and the exchange of traditions.

I express my wish that the Ukrainian people will know how to look upon historical events with the eyes of reconciliation. I trust in the spiritual consolation of the Most Holy Mother of God for all those who still suffer from the consequences of these tragic actions. I accompany these feelings with the Apostolic Blessing that I share with you, Honored Brothers, and with all those who are entrusted to your pastoral care, asking the generous blessings of heaven upon all.

Vatican, November 23, 2003, feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the World

John Paul II

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