The Holy Father Francis received in audience this morning, in the Bologna Hall of the Apostolic Vatican Palace, the Members of the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, and he gave the address, which we translate below.
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The Holy Father’s Address
Beatitude, Dear Brother Major Archbishop,
It was my wish to invite you here, to Rome, for a fraternal sharing, also with the Superiors of the competent Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. I thank you for accepting the invitation; it’s lovely to see you. Ukraine has been living for some time a difficult and delicate situation, for over five years wounded by a conflict that many call “hybrid,” made up as it is by war actions where those responsible blend with one another; a conflict where the weakest and littlest pay the highest price; a conflict aggravated by propagandist falsifications and manipulations of various sorts, including the attempt to involve the religious aspect.
I carry you in my heart and I pray for you, dear Ukrainian Brothers. And I confide to you that sometimes I do so with the prayer that I remember and that I learned from Bishop Stefano Chmil, then a Salesian priest. He taught it to me in 1949, when I was twelve, and I learned from him to serve the Divine Liturgy three times a week. I thank you for your fidelity to the Lord and to the Successor of Peter, often costing dearly in the course of history, and I entreat the Lord, so that He may accompany the actions of all political leaders to seek not the so-called one-sided good, which in the end is always an interest to the detriment of another, but the common good, peace. And I ask the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) to comfort the spirit of those that have lost their dear ones because of the war, and those that bear wounds in the body and in the spirit, those that have had to leave their home and work and face the risk of seeking a more human future elsewhere and far away. Know that my gaze turns every morning and every evening to Our Lady, of which His Beatitude made me a gift when he left Buenos Aires to assume the office of Major Archbishop that the Church had entrusted to him. I begin and end the days before that icon, entrusting all of you and your Church to the tenderness of Our Lady, who is Mother. It can be said that I begin the days and end them “in Ukranian,” looking at Our Lady.
In the face of the complex situations caused by the conflicts, the principal role of the Church is to offer the witness of Christian hope. Not a hope of the world, which is based on things that pass, come and go, and often divide, but the hope that never disappoints, that does not yield to discouragement., which is able to overcome every tribulation in the gentle strength of the Spirit (Cf. Romans 5:2-5). Christian hope, nourished by the light of Christ, makes the resurrection and life shine even in the darkest nights of the world. Therefore, dear Brothers, I believe that, in difficult periods, even more so than in those of peace, the priority for believers is to be united to Jesus, our hope. It’s about renewing that union founded on Baptism and rooted in the Faith, rooted in the history of our communities, rooted in the great witnesses: I think of the array of daily heroes, of those numerous next-door saints that, with simplicity, have responded among your people to evil with good (Cf. Romans 12:21). They are the example to look at: those that in the meekness of the Beatitudes had the Christian courage of not opposing themselves to the wicked, of loving enemies and praying for persecutors (Cf. Mathew 5:39.44). In the violent field of history, they planted the Cross of Christ, and they have borne fruit. These brothers and sisters of yours, who have suffered persecutions and martyrdom and that, close to the Lord Jesus, rejected the logic of the world, according to which violence is answered with violence, have written with <their> life the most limpid pages of the faith: they are fecund seeds of Christian hope. I read with emotion the book “Persecuted for the Truth.” Behind those priests, Bishops, Sisters, is the People of God, which carries forward with faith and prayer the whole people.
Some years ago the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greed-Catholic Church adopted the pastoral program entitled “The Living Parish, Place of Encounter with the Living Christ. In some translations, the expression “Parrochia viva” was rendered with the adjective “vibrant.” In fact, the encounter with Jesus, the spiritual life, the prayer that vibrates in the beauty of your Liturgy transmit that beautiful strength of peace, which soothes wounds, infuses courage but not aggression. When, as from a well of spring water, we draw this spiritual vitality and transmit it, the Church becomes fecund. She becomes the Herald of the Gospel of hope, Teacher of that interior life that no other institution is able to offer.
Therefore, I wish to encourage you all, in as much as Pastors of the People of God, to have a primary concern in all your activities: prayer <and> the spiritual life. It’s the first occupation; no other goes before it. We know and all see that in your tradition you are a Church that is able to speak in spiritual, not worldly, terms (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:13), because every person that approaches the Church needs Heaven on earth, nothing else. May the Lord grant you this grace and make us all dedicated to our sanctification and that of the faithful entrusted to us. In the night of conflict you are going through, as in Gethsemane, the Lord asks His own to “watch and pray”; not to defend themselves, and much less to attack. However, the disciples slept instead of praying and, when Judas arrived, they pulled out the sword. They hadn’t prayed and fell into temptation, in the temptation of worldliness: the violent weakness of the flesh prevailed over the meekness of the spirit. Not sleep, not the sword, not flight (Cf. Matthew 26:40.52.56), but prayer and the gift of self to the end are the answers that the Lord awaits from His own. Only these answers are Christian; they alone save one from the worldly spiral of violence.
The Church is called to carry out her pastoral mission with various means. After prayer comes closeness. What the Lord had asked His apostles that evening, to stay close to Him and to watch (Cf. Mark 14:34), He asks today of His Pastors: to be with the people, watching beside one going through the night of pain. The closeness of Pastors to the faithful is a channel, which is built day by day and which brings the living water of hope. It’s built thus, encounter after encounter, with the priests that know and take to heart the people’s concerns, and the faithful that, through the care they receive, assimilate the proclamation of the Gospel, which the Pastors transmit. They don’t understand it if the Pastors are only intent on saying God: they understand it if they spend themselves in giving God: giving themselves, being close, witnesses of the God of hope that made Himself flesh to walk on the roads of man. May the Church be the place where hope is drawn, where the door is always open, where consolation and encouragement is offered. Never closure towards anyone, but an open heart; never looking at the clock to send home one who needs to be listened to. We are servants in time. We live in time. Please, don’t fall into the temptation to live as slaves of the clock! –Time, not the clock.
Pastoral care includes in the first place the liturgy that, as the Major Archbishop has often stressed, together with spirituality and catechesis, constitutes an element that characterizes the identity of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. She, to the world “still disfigured by egoism and greed, reveals the way towards the balance of the new man” (Saint John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, 11): the way of charity, of unconditional love, within which every other activity must be directed, to nourish the fraternal bond between persons, inside and outside of the community.
With this spirit of closeness, in 2016 I promoted a humanitarian initiative, to which I invited the Churches of Europe to take part, to offer help to those most affected by the conflict. I thank again from my heart all those that contributed to the carrying out of this collection, be it on the economic, be it on the organizational and technical plane. And to that first initiative, now essentially concluded, I would like other special projects to follow. Already in this meeting, some information could be provided. It’s so important to be close to all and to be concrete, also to avoid the danger of a grave situation of suffering falling into general oblivion. A suffering brother can’t be forgotten, regardless of where he comes from. A suffering brother can’ be forgotten.
I would like to add a third word to prayer and closeness, which is so familiar to you: synodality. To be Church is to be a community that walks together. It’s not enough to hold a Synod, it’s necessary to be Synod. The Church has need of intense internal sharing: a lively dialogue between Pastors and between Pastors and faithful. In as much as Oriental Catholic Church, you have already in your canonical order a marked Synodal expression, which foresees frequent and periodical recourse to assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. However, every day the Synod must be done, making an effort to walk together, not only with one who thinks the same way — this would be easy — but with all believers in Jesus. Three aspects revive synodality. First of all, listening: to listen to the experiences and the suggestions of Brother Bishops and Presbyters. It’s important that each one, inside the Synod, feels he is heard. To listen is all the more important the more one goes up in the hierarchy. Listening is sensitivity and openness to the opinion of brothers, also of those that are the youngest and also those considered less expert. A second aspect: co-responsibility. We can’t be indifferent in face of the errors and carelessness of others, without intervening in a fraternal but convinced way: our brothers have need of our thought, of our encouragement, as well as of our corrections, because, in fact, we are called to walk together. One can’t conceal what is not right and go on as if there were nothing to defend at all cost of one’s own good name: charity is always lived in truth, in transparency, in that Parrhesia that purifies the Church and makes her go forward. Synodality — <the> third aspect — also means involvement of the laity: in as much as full members of the Church, they are also called to express themselves, to give suggestions. Participants in ecclesial life, they are not only heard but listened to. And I underscore this verb: to listen. One who listens can then speak well; he who isn’t used to listening, doesn’t speak, he barks. Synodality also leads to widening the horizons, to living the richness of one’s tradition within the universality of the Church: to benefit from good relations with the other rites; to consider the beauty of sharing significant parts of one’s theological and liturgical treasure with other communities, also non-Catholic ones; to weave fruitful relationships with other particular Churches, as well as with the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. The unity in the Church will be that much more fecund, the more agreement and cohesion there is between the Holy See and the particular Churches is real. More precisely: the more <there is> agreement and cohesion between all the Bishops with the Bishop of Rome. This must certainly not “entail a diminution in the awareness of one’s authenticity and originality” (Orientale Lumen, 21), but molded within our Catholic identity, that is, universal. In as much as universal, it is put in danger and can be worn down by attachment to the particularism of various sorts: ecclesial particularisms, nationalistic particularisms, political particularisms.
Dear Brothers, may these two days of the meeting, which I desired intensely, be intense moments of sharing, of mutual listening, of free dialogue, always animated by the search for the good, in the spirit of the Gospel. May they help us walk together better. In a certain sense, it’s a sort of Synod dedicated to the themes that are most at heart of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in this period, marked by the still on-going military conflict and characterized by a series of political and ecclesial processes much more ample than those regarding our Catholic Church. However, I recommend this spirit to you, this discernment on which to verify yourselves: prayer and spiritual life in the first place; then closeness, especially with one that suffers; then synodality, walking together, walking openly, step after step, with meekness and docility. I thank you. I accompany you on this path and I ask you, please, to remember me in your prayers. Thank you![Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
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