Pope to Ukrainian Greek Catholics: ‘I Am Here Today to Say I Am Close You’

Visiting Rome’s Greek-Catholic Community, Pope Prays for End to Violence, Says Do Not Lose Hope

© Vatican Media

Pope Francis visited Rome’s Greek-Catholic Community of Ukrainians today at the Basilica of St. Sophia on Via Boccea, northwest of Rome, Jan. 28, 2018.

Pope St John Paul II visited St. Sophia in Rome in 1984, to pay homage to the tomb of Cardinal Josyp Slipyi, the Head of the Greek Catholic Community of Ukraine who was harshly persecuted under the Soviet regime, including 18 years in prison, before eventually being freed. Blessed Pope Paul VI was there, previously in 1969, for the consecration of the Basilica, the initiative of Cardinal Slipyi.

The Pope arrived around 4 p.m., after having celebrated Mass this morning at Rome’s Marian Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and after having his traditional noon Angelus.

Jumbotrons were set up outside the church transmitting coverage to the faithful unable to be inside. Faithful welcomed the Pope with Ukrainian Christmas songs because for Greek-Catholic Ukrainians, following the Julian calendar, it is still Christmastime, since the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is February 18.

During the encounter, the Major Archbishop of Kiev, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine presented the community to the Pope, and he and the Pope exchanged greetings.

In Pope Francis’ address he reflected on Cardinal Josyp Slipyi, Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Czmil, and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, former Major Archbishop of the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine, and their great examples they have given.

During the visit today, Francis descended into the crypt to pray at the tomb of Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Czmil.

With January 22 marking the 40th Anniversary of the bishop’s passing, Bishop Czmil was sent as a missionary in 1948 to Buenos Aires and would teach at the Salesian school that young Jorge Bergoglio attended. Through him, one of his first educators, Bergoglio would be introduced to the Byzantine rite and get to know the Greek Catholic Community of Ukraine.

Also in his address, the Pontiff also reminded: “A living parish is a meeting place with the living Christ.” Recognizing the many Ukrainian women of great faith and charity, he told them: “You are precious and you bring in many Italian families the announcement of God.”

Recognizing how much the Ukrainian people have suffered, the Pope said, “I am here today to tell you all that I am close to you: close with my heart, with my prayers, and when I celebrate Mass.”

“I pray to the Prince of Peace to stop the weapons,” he said, telling the faithful to never lose hope.

Before returning to the Vatican, the Pope saw the mosaics of the basilica.

Major Archbishop Shevchuk explained to journalists in the Vatican on Friday, that four years ago, Ukraine suffered the aggression of a neighboring country, Russia.

According to UN agencies today in Ukraine there are 2 million internally displaced persons. It is a crisis that continues and escalates. These statistics demonstrate the most serious humanitarian crisis in Europe after the Second World War. In spite of this, it is a ‘forgotten war,’ as was said by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, during his visit to Russia last August.

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