VATICAN CITY, JULY 18, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II stressed the liberating character of forgiveness, on the occasion of the official commemoration of Ukrainian-Polish reconciliation, 60 years after a wartime atrocity.
“The new millennium calls for Ukrainians and Poles not to remain prisoners of their sad memories,” the Pope wrote in his message sent to Cardinals Jozef Glemp, primate of Poland; Marian Jaworski, archbishop of Lviv of the Latins; and Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop of Lviv of the Ukrainians; as well as to the “brother peoples of Ukraine and Poland.”
Sixty years ago, along the eastern border of Poland, inhabited by Ukrainians, Poles and Jews, the unfulfilled promise of the Germans to create a Ukrainian autochthonous region in Volinia unleashed destruction among the communities that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
It happened in July 1943, “in the whirlwind of the Second World War,” the Holy Father said. “When the need for solidarity and reciprocal help was most urgent, the dark action of evil poisoned hearts and weapons made innocent blood spill,” he added.
Now, however, “the need is perceived of a reconciliation that will allow the present and future to be seen with new eyes.”
“Considering the events of the past with a new spirit,” John Paul II emphasized the need for Ukrainians and Poles “to look at one another with reconciled eyes, committing themselves to build a better future for all.”
On this point, the Holy Father recalled the process of purification of the memory during the Jubilee of 2000, when “the Church, in a solemn context, with clear awareness of what occurred in past times, asked for forgiveness before the world for the faults of its children, forgiving at the same moment all those who had offended it in different ways.”
This is the attitude that the Church proposes to civil society, “exhorting all to sincere reconciliation, conscious that there is no justice without forgiveness,” and of the fragility of a collaboration “without reciprocal openness.”
According to the Pope, this is an urgent task, keeping in mind how necessary it is “to educate young generations to address the future not as conditioned by a history of mistrust, prejudice and violence, but with the spirit of a reconciled memory.”
Volinia is a region of Western Ukraine comprising, then as now, a mix of Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Gypsies and Jews.
The Italian newspaper Avvenire recalled that, during World War II, the most representative ethnic groups — Ukrainians and Poles — formed political-military organizations to struggle against the Soviets, at times leaning on the Germans, at other times combating them, but they committed acts which harmed other nationalities of the area.
One such political-military group was the Ukrainian nationalist UPA, led by Stepan Bandera, whose objective was to oppose Moscow’s hegemony as well as to expel other ethnic groups from the region.
On July 11, 1943, a section of UPA occupied and set fire to the village of Biskupici and killed a Polish family — parents and five children.
The next day, Bandera’s men killed about 200 people in Maryja Wola. Thirty Poles were thrown into a well and stoned to death.
Recently in Kiev’s newspaper Den, Victor Medveciuk, then president of Parliament, said that such actions had the character of an “ethnic cleansing” against the Polish population. “No doubt,” he said, the actions “must be condemned as criminal.”