The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has issued a statement following a threat from the Ukrainian government to deprive the Church of legal status.
The threat appears to be an attempt to pressure the Church after it offered pastoral support to Ukrainians taking part in protests against the government in December.
The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, said in the statement that the Church is not directly involved in the political process but that it cannot stand aside when the faithful ask for spiritual care.
Pope Francis has expressed his prayerful support for the Ukrainian people. In a letter dated 23 December, Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, assured the “beloved Ukrainian people” of the Holy Father’s “prayers for peace and harmony.”
Here below is Archbishop Shevchuk’s statement which was published today in English:
“The protests on Independence Square in Kyiv began after the Government’s Nov. 21 announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union.a threat has been voiced “to terminate the activities of responsible religious organizations” of the UGCC. This was stated in an official letter of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine dated 3 Jan. 2014 (Prot. № 1/3/13-14) and signed by the First Deputy Minister, Tymofii Kokhan.
The reason for such a reaction by the government office is religious activity, allegedly carried out by “the representatives, in particular of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on Independence Square in Kyiv during December of last year and in the new year 2014, in violation of Ukraine’s legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations.”
It should be recalled that precisely in this year we are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the legalization of the UGCC in the former Soviet Union. The times have long passed when church buildings were ruined and priests serving their faithful were arrested or even killed. This is why we are so deeply disturbed by the statement voiced today in an independent Ukraine, that ministry carried out by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church might be considered “grounds for commencing legal action for the termination of its activity”.
Considering the official nature of this letter, which touches the very existence of the UGGC and its ministry, and considering that the given interpretation of the Law of Ukraine “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations” has an impact on the entire religious environment of Ukraine, I feel it my duty to state the following.
The Church is not a participant in the political process, but at the same time, it cannot stand aside when its faithful ask for spiritual care. Our faithful, together with other citizens of Ukraine, in a peaceful way based on Christian and human values, have expressed their views on Ukraine’s European choice. These values have their source in God’s law, and Christ, the Saviour, has entrusted to us their preservation and charged us, by the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out His mission “to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (cfr. Lk. 4, 18). The presence of the priest there, where his faithful are, is a fundamental part of his pastoral ministry. It is the duty of the priest to be with his faithful, a duty that flows from the very mission of the Church. Our Church has always been true to this mission that Christ has entrusted to it, and will remain so in the future despite any threats.
Based on the principle of religious freedom – a basic human right, a priest is free to pray wherever his faithful are. The realization of such a right does not require the special permission of the State. The Church recognizes the right of the faithful to pray and to satisfy their spiritual needs at all times and in all circumstances. Today, at a time when dialogue between the government and the citizen is wanting, those who believe in God feel a special need to pray for peace and tranquillity in our country, and for an end to the violence that has violated the dignity and the constitutional rights of the citizens of Ukraine.
The official position of our Church regarding the present socio-political situation is laid out in a series of addresses issued, both on behalf of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and in common with the members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO). The Church reserves the right to assess the situation in the country, and determine if there are violations of human rights and of the principles of public morality which flow from God’s law and are reflected in the social teaching of the Church.
I hope that the State authorities, especially those entrusted with the task of serving people in guaranteeing their right for religious freedom in Ukraine, will be wise enough not to commence a persecution of the Church, and thus shift the current socio-political crisis into the religious sphere as well.
I believe that the efforts made by all Churches and Religious Organizations in Ukraine towards the avoidance of violence and hatred, together with the preaching of peace and mutual understanding among diverse groups of our society, will not be a reason for mistrust or tension in Church-State relations.
Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych,
Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church”
On the NET: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church