Letter of Bishops of Poland and Ukraine on Reconciliation

«We Have to Rise Above the Legacy of History, Forgive One Another»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

WARSAW, Poland, AUG. 29, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of a letter published at the close of proceedings of the plenary meeting of the Polish bishops’ conference read out on June 19 in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw. The event came at the close the 3rd National Eucharistic Congress.

The letter was read out again on June 26 in Lviv, Ukraine, and at the Greek Catholic shrine of Zarvanytsia near Ternopil.

* * *

Peace between peoples is possible.

In the Year of the Eucharist we undertake St. Paul’s calling: «The appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled with God!» (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are taking part in a historical moment and its purpose is to aim at uniting the nations through prayer and forgiveness. We desire — according to St. Paul’s command — to aim at reconciliation between the faithful of the Greek Catholic and the Roman Catholic Churches.

In fulfillment of an act of mutual forgiveness — in the name of the justice, mercy and well-being of our nations — we wish to take up the inheritance of Our Holy Father John Paul II — the Pope of peace and reconciliation. We do this in a sense of responsibility for «raising future generations in the spirit of reconciliation and building a future freed from the limitations of history» (John Paul’s II Message on the 60th anniversary of the tragic events in Wolyn; Vatican, 7 July 2003).

Addressing the Ukrainian and Polish peoples he wrote: «Since God forgave us in Christ it is necessary that believers should be able to forgive one another’s hurts and ask forgiveness for our own misdoings and thus participate in building a world in which life, justice, peace and harmony are respected (John Paul II’s Message, as above).

Today we send fraternal greetings to the faithful in the Ukraine and Poland as well as to our Eastern-rite brothers and all men of good will. Our history is full of difficult and sometimes tragic events. We have been separated by military, political and religious conflicts despite our shared inheritance of one and the same faith and a community of baptism through which, regardless of national identity, we were firmly rooted in our Lord’s death and glorious ascension.

1. For over 1,000 years ago our nations have opened themselves to Christ and to his Gospel, and from the very beginning Christianity was the heart of our culture and national identity. Faith in the Risen Christ helped us to endure difficult times of war and enslavement. It brought with it the hope that our nations too will rise to life in freedom.

Christianity came to Poland from Latin Europe, whereas on Ukrainian soil it grew out of the Byzantine tradition. This was a difference which could sometimes form an obstacle to our mutual relations, especially at times when mutual efforts of rapprochement were neglected. The differences between us were also often artificially exaggerated by our hostile neighbors in an effort to sow conflict between us, or again they were caused by internal political conflicts. There were times in our history, however, when we experienced a common fate, walked a common path, endured many trials together — mutually taking advantage of our spiritual heritage and drawing from our Christian community the hope and strength to survive.

The 20th century brought the world tragic experiences of many wars, political terror and the destruction of Churches by totalitarian regimes. It also distinguished itself by joyful events: the collapse of totalitarian systems (Nazi and Communist), the Second Vatican Council, the restoration of religious freedom, the renaissance of Greek Catholic churches in the Ukraine and the unification of Europe.

Standing now on the threshold of the third millennium of Christ’s birth we realize that in order to build unity among the nations and develop mutual relations in a spirit of trust we have to rise above the legacy of history, forgive one another any past hurts and misunderstandings, wipe the slate clean and build a civilization of love.

2. There is a long history of attempts to reach mutual agreement between Polish Roman Catholic and Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops and unity between our nations. Sixty years ago, on 22 May 1945 in the Papal College of St. Joseph in Rome, a meeting took place between the Polish Primate Cardinal August Hlond and Bishop Ivan Bucko. On 8 and 17 October 1987, also in Rome, the bishops of Poland and the Ukraine met. These meetings were held in a spirit of love and understanding as may be confirmed by the Polish and Ukrainian members of the hierarchy who participated.

This was when the spiritual leaders of our churches Cardinals Myroslav Ivan Lubachivskyj and Jozef Glemp made a joint statement: «We are indebted to each other because we have not managed to bring to life the teaching which comes from our unity in holy baptism!»

The mutual efforts undertaken on this occasion bore great fruit. The millennium of the christening of Rus’- Ukraine was celebrated with great ceremony in Poland at Jasna Gora in 1988 with both Polish and Ukrainian bishops participating. As Catholics of both denominations we were brought together by the celebrations of the great Jubilee of 2000. In 2001 the Holy Father John Paul II, the successor of the Apostle Peter, arrived in Ukraine.

The Holy Father’s pilgrimage was a powerful influence on the process of building understanding and overcoming distrust and the burdens of history, which should not be an obstacle for the new generation of Ukrainians and Poles who wish to live in a united Europe in a friendly atmosphere of equality and respect. Under the influence of the papal pilgrimage it became possible to pay homage together to the victims of fratricidal conflicts. The solidarity of our two nations appeared in a very special way in autumn 2004 in Kyiv.

3. When on 2 April 2005 Pope John Paul II went to Our Heavenly Father’s house, the world lost its chief spiritual leader. These memorable days enable us to realize even more powerfully the value of the apostolic service of Christ’s vicar on Earth — a son of the Slav nations. One of the most important issues of John Paul’s II papacy was concern about peace between nations. We remember his words: «There is no peace without justice, there is no justice without forgiveness» (the title of the Address for XXXV World Day of Peace on 1 January 2002). The Holy Father gave us, as Christ’s disciples, a wonderful example of confessing the historical failings of the Church and asking forgiveness, since in a Christian’s heart there should be no room for anger, injustice, or untruth.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ! Celebrating the Holy Eucharist during Eucharistic Congress in Warsaw (19 June) and in Lviv (26 June) we will be directing our prayers to Almighty God. Before this happens let us fulfill our holy duty of which Christ said: «If you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that you brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your opponent first and then come back and present your offering» (Matthew 5:23-24).

The gift we are bringing is the desire to fulfill our Lord’s will «that they may be For we are all pilgrims on this earth. We walk the path of Faith to our one heavenly Father, to our heavenly home where — as we hope — we shall enjoy the full glory of God. Also from this eternal perspective of human destiny comes the duty of reconciliation. Once our ancestors chose the common way, opening their hearts and our countries’ borders for Christ. The distinctions of denominations and cultural diversity are only a sign of greater richness, which is brought by faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharistic Year that we are currently living through helps us to a deeper understanding of the essence of the holy sacrament. What is the way of expressing our gratitude for this Gift of Bread of Life, which is the source of our hope for
peace and love between nations? «My sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn» (Psalm 51:19). In the past century our nations gave witness to their faithfulness to the death! The blood shed by the martyrs calls us to love our friends and enemies and calls: «Make peace with one another!»

Let us rise above political views and historical events, above church rituals, even above our national identity — Ukrainian and Polish. Let us remember first and foremost that we are God’s children. Let us turn to our Father: «Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.» To make our prayer most fruitful let us address each other with the words: «We forgive and we ask for forgiveness» — words which already have historical significance in the work of reconciliation between nations (see the Letter of the Polish and German Bishops, Rome 1965). May this act of forgiveness and reconciliation be fulfilled before the face of One God in the Trinity and Our Lady in the places holy for our faithful: «in Jasna Gora and in Zarvanytsia, in Warsaw and Lviv.» May our mutual prayer be the prayer of pure hearts, the prayer of men of good will.

In this spirit we send you our pastoral blessing.
Warsaw-Lviv, 19-26 June 2005.

[Text slightly adapted]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation