In the middle of a long stay in Rome to take part in the plenary session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Metropolitan of Kiev and Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, has spoken to ZENIT of his great and concrete hopes for ecumenism and for peace under Pope Francis’ pontificate.
We met the Eastern Metropolitan in the Church of Saints Sergio and Bacco in Rione Monti, a parish that Ukrainians of the Byzantine rite refer to in Rome.
Speaking of the plenary session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the archbishop said the Holy Father listened to the hopes and difficulties of Eastern prelates, and said: “I knew a lot about your churches but I have now discovered some new things …”
Archbishop Shevchuk knows Pope Francis well, having served for a couple of years (2009-2011) Bishop of the Eparchy of Santa Maria del Patrocinio in Buenos Aires, when Cardinal Bergoglio was Archbishop of the principal Argentine diocese.
Last Saturday, the Ukrainian Catholic community commemorated the Holomodor, the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-33, in which millions of Ukrainians died as a result of an “artificial famine” orchestrated by Stalin’s regime. A “sad anniversary,” commented Archbishop Shevchuk, for which victims “we prayed together with the Ukrainian Bishops who came to Rome from all over the world.”
Last Sunday the Eastern Patriarchs and Archbishops concelebrated the closing Mass of the Year of Faith with the Holy Father, during which “the Holy Father gave us a particular sign, a symbol: the exchange of peace, sign of the communion between us but also a desire for peace between us and for the Middle East,” stressed the Metropolitan of Kiev.
On Monday, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of the transfer of the relics of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and martyr for the unity of the Church, on which occasion the Eastern prelates concelebrated Holy Mass at the Altar of the Confession presided over by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. At the end of the celebration, Pope Francis arrived at the Basilica bto greet the bishops and converse with them again.
Today’s event is the commemoration of Omeljan Kovc, patron of the parishes of the Ukrainian Church, which is celebrated in Saint Bartholomew’s church on Tibertina Island.
“Kovc was killed by the Nazis in a concentration camp because he saved Jews,” recalled Archbishop Shevchuk . My predecessor says that he is a son of the Ukrainian nation who gave his life for the children of other nations but he died in the land of a third nation, the Polish: therefore he unites these nations, filling the abysses of division that are sometimes created in history.”
The 50th anniversary will also be celebrated by the Ukrainian Catholic University of Rome, founded by a distinguished predecessor of Shevchuk: Cardinal Josef Slipyi.
ZENIT: Yesterday, Pope Francis met Russian President Vladimir Putin: how important is this event in the context of the rebirth of a Christian Europe and of peace in the world?
Archbishop Shevchuk: It was a very important moment; meetings such as this make the walls of division fall and open hearts. Almost 25 years ago, the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev met with John Paul II and this marked a decisive turn in our Church, it made her come out of clandestinity. It was a meeting that opened the doors to religious liberty. The meeting of the Pope with President Putin is truly very significant, not only for the opening of the hearts and minds of the Orthodox to the Catholic Western world but also because it contributes to mutual cooperation for a Christian Europe. Not only does the Russian Orthodox Church support Christian values, especially in the field of the family and marriage, but, together with the Holy Father, it is collaborating a lot for peace in Syria. This is a very important fact because in Syria there are Catholics as well as Orthodox. It is a very encouraging step, therefore, and we hope there will be a follow-up in the future.
ZENIT: How is ecumenism lived in Ukraine?
Archbishop Shevchuk: The good news is that ecumenism exists! The word is known, it is not always perceived in a positive way by all Christians; however, the desire for Christian unity is born from within, the people desire this union, they are tired of the divisions. We have taken significant steps since the fall of Communism. We have passed from tension to peaceful coexistence, then little by little to collaboration. Now we must undertake the way of a common witness of Christian values in our society. We try not to offend Christians of other confessions in their sensibility and to be united wherever we can, especially in our action in the social field.
ZENIT: A year ago, you took part in the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization. What do you think of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium?
Archbishop Shevchuk: I think the Pope is talking about a living Church not ensnared by external formalisms but rather be a witness of her authenticity. One of the most significant chapters concerns the homily: the Holy Father explains that the homily is the moment of God’s dialogue with his people; it is a message that the priest must not transmit in his own name. The priest who speaks in the name of God and who proclaims the world of God, is representing the Lord who speaks to the heart of his faithful. We must rediscover this living dialogue between God and man, through liturgical celebration.