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A 1st in 70 Years: Ukrainian Bishops’ 5-Yearly Visit

Benedict XVI Welcomes Churches’ Renewed Freedom

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2008 ( Benedict XVI welcomed bishops of the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine, expressing his joy that their Churches have “rediscovered freedom.”

The bishops visited the Pope in the Vatican today for their five-yearly visit, the first they have been able to make in 70 years.

The Holy Father expressed his joy at having the opportunity to welcome the bishops, who had thus far been prevented by “serious and objective reasons” from making this joint pilgrimage to the Holy See.

“Now that your Churches have rediscovered their complete freedom,” he said, “you are here to represent your communities, reborn and vibrant in the faith, which have never ceased to feel their full communion with Peter’s Successor. You are welcome, dear brothers, in this house in which intense and incessant prayers have always been said for the beloved Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine.”

Referring to the bishops’ reports on the situation in their country, the Pontiff said he had noted with interest their commitment “to constantly promote, consolidate and verify unity and collaboration within your communities, so as to be able to meet the challenges that face you as pastors and that are the focus of your concerns and your pastoral programs.”

Priests’ role

Benedict XVI praised the prelates’ “generous efforts and tireless testimony” in their dealings “with your people and the Church,” reminding them that in their missionary and pastoral duties “priests are of indispensable assistance.” Hence, the Pope invited the bishops to ensure that priests, “in the various initiatives of ‘aggiornamento,’ do not follow the novelties of the world but present society with the responses that only Christ can give to the hopes for justice and peace in the human heart.”

The Holy Father also stressed the importance of making increased efforts to provide priests with courses of spiritual exercises, formation and theological and pastoral renewal, “if possible also in collaboration with the Latin episcopate, each respecting its own traditions. It cannot be denied that such collaboration between the two rites would lead to greater harmony of heart among those who serve the one Church.”

“I am certain that, with such an inward attitude, any misunderstandings will be more easily resolved, in the awareness that both rites belong to the one Catholic community and that both have full and equal citizenship in the one Ukrainian people,” he added. In this context, the Pontiff recommended that the Greek-rite prelates “meet regularly, for example once a year, with the Latin bishops.”

The Holy Father then went on to consider the difficulties faced by Ukrainian bishops “as regards the responsible obedience of male and female religious, and their cooperation in the needs of the Church. With the magnanimity of pastors and the patience of fathers, exhort these brothers and sisters tirelessly to defend the ‘non-secular’ nature of their vocation” and “faithfully to observe their vows […] so they can provide the Church with the particular testimony that is asked of them.”

On the subject of ecumenism, the Bishop of Rome recognized that “real and objective obstacles persist. However,” he said, “it is important not to lose heart in the face of the difficulties, but to continue along the journey that began with prayer and patient charity.” He also noted how, “for centuries in Ukraine, Orthodox and Catholics have sought to create a daily, humble and serene dialogue that embraces many aspects of life.”

“Before anything else, what must be promoted is the ecumenism of love” which, the Pontiff said, “accompanied by coherent actions, creates trust and causes hearts and eyes to open. By its nature, charity promotes and illuminates the dialogue of truth.”

Benedict XVI concluded his talk by giving thanks to God “for the rebirth of your Church after the dramatic period of persecution. On this occasion I feel the need to assure you that the Pope carries you all in his heart, he accompanies you affectionately and supports you in your difficult mission.

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