Noting the wounds of war and violence, Pope Francis on November 9, 2017, encouraged the community of the Pontifical Ukrainian College of Saint Josaphat in Rome, during an audience in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace.
“In particular, experienced in your dear Ukrainian Nation, from which you come and to which you will return at the end of your studies in Rome, is the tragedy of war, which generates great sufferings, especially in the areas involved, made even more vulnerable by the rigors of the coming winter,” the Holy Father lamented. “And the aspiration to justice and peace is strong, which bans every form of abuse, social or political corruption, reality of which the poor always bear the cost.”
Francis encouraged the seminarians: “May God sustain and encourage those that are committed to bring about an ever more just and solidary society. May they be actively supported by the concrete commitment of the Churches, of believers and of all persons of good will.”
The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ be praised! [in Ukrainian] I greet Cardinal Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and His Excellency Monsignor Vasil’, Secretary, who is a former student of the College: my heartfelt thanks to the Rector for his introductory words.
This meeting of ours happens 85 years after the building of the headquarters of your College on the Janiculum Hill, by the will of Pope Pius XI. He made himself promoter of an initiative that manifested the special and concrete solicitude of the Successors of the Apostle Peter for the faithful of the Church of areas of suffering or persecution, which in this way could feel themselves here in Rome as beloved sons that live in a house and grow in it, preparing themselves for the apostolic mission as deacons and priests. In the years of his pontificate, Pius XI had to address many epochal challenges, but he always raised his firm voice in defending the faith, the freedom of the Church and the transcendent dignity of every human person. Through addresses and letters, he condemned clearly the atheist and inhuman ideologies that bloodied the 20th century. Thus he brought to light their contradictions, pointing out to the Church the masterful way of the Gospel, put into practice also in the pursuit of social justice, essential to the fully human redemption of peoples and nations. As future priests, I invite you to study the Social Doctrine of the Church, to mature in discernment and in judgment on the social realities in which you will be called to operate.
In our days also the world is wounded by wars and violence. In particular, experienced in your dear Ukrainian Nation, from which you come and to which you will return at the end of your studies in Rome, is the tragedy of war, which generates great sufferings, especially in the areas involved, made even more vulnerable by the rigors of the coming winter. And the aspiration to justice and peace is strong, which bans every form of abuse, social or political corruption, reality of which the poor always bear the cost. May God sustain and encourage those that are committed to bring about an ever more just and solidary society. May they be actively supported by the concrete commitment of the Churches, of believers and of all persons of good will.
To you, seminarians and priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, these challenges might seem outside of your competence; however, let us recall the words of the Apostle John: “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one [. . .} and the word of God abides in you” (1 John 2:13.14). By loving and proclaiming the Word, you will become true pastors of the communities that will be entrusted to you, and which will be the lamp that illumines your heart and your house, whether you prepare yourselves for the celibate or the married priesthood, in keeping with the tradition of your Church.
From the Janiculum Hill, you can enjoy a very beautiful panorama of Rome, and perhaps a few days ago, after a storm, you contemplated the spectacle of the rainbow, when the sun slashed the densest clouds. So I invite you to have always in your heart wide horizons, which have the measure of the whole world, where many sons and daughters of Ukraine have scattered in the course of the centuries. Love and protect your traditions, but avoid every form of sectarianism. And always guard, in your homeland and outside, the dream of God’s covenant with humanity, the bridges that, as the arc of light above the clouds, reconcile heaven and earth and ask men down here to learn to love and respect one another, abandoning weapons, wars and every sort of abuse of power.
If you walk thus and teach others to do the same, especially in the fundamental ecumenical dialogue, I’m certain that they will smile on you from the heavenly homeland and will sustain all the Bishops and priests – some formed in your College – who gave their life or who suffered persecution because of their fidelity to Christ and to the Apostolic See. And above all the All Holy Mother of God, Mary Most Holy will rejoice, so venerated in your national Shrine of Zarvanytsya She wants the priests of her Son to be as lighted torches in the night of vigil in that Shrine, remembering all, especially the poor and the suffering, and also those that do evil and sow violence and destruction, so that “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1).
I also keep and venerate a small Ukrainian icon of Our Lady of Tenderness, gift of your Major Archbishop when we were together in Buenos Aires. And when I remained here, I had it brought to me. I pray to her every day. I accompany you with my blessing, invoking peace and ecumenical harmony for Ukraine. And I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me. Have a good walk!
And I don’t want to end without remembering a person that did me good when I was in the last elementary class, in the year 1949. The majority of you weren’t born! It is Father Stephen Chmil, then consecrated Bishop hiding here in Rome from the then Major Archbishop. He celebrated Mass there, there wasn’t a close Ukrainian community, and there were some who helped him. I learned to serve the Mass in the Ukrainian rite from him. He taught me everything. I had to help him twice a week. This did me good, because that man spoke of the persecutions, the sufferings, <and> the ideologies that persecuted the Christians. Then he taught me to open myself to a different liturgy, which I always keep in my heart because of its beauty. When I was in Buenos Aires, Shevchuk asked me for testimonies to open the process of canonization of this Bishop ordained in secret. I wished to remember him today because it’s justice to thank you for the good he did me. Thank you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Vir