The bishops of the UGCC told the Pope about the suffering of their people and the pain of misunderstandings between Ukraine and the Vatican.
Pope Francis received privately the bishops of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) for nearly two hours on September 6, 2023, at the Vatican, the Holy See Press Office reported. The meeting was “an opportunity for frank and sincere dialogue,” according to UGCC officials, who expressed to the Pope “the suffering” of their people and “a certain disappointment” for the “misunderstandings” between Kiev and Rome, as noted in a statement published on their website.
The Pope received the delegation in the salon adjacent to Paul VI Hall before the general audience. The bishops told him about the painful situation in their country, which has “an increasing number of dead, wounded, and tortured people,” according to the Holy See’s note. The audience took place within the framework of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, held in Rome from September 3 to 13.
The Argentine Pontiff “listened attentively” and expressed “his closeness to and participation in the tragedy being experienced by Ukrainians.” He lamented the silence surrounding the cruelty suffered by this people, and regretted its powerlessness in the face of war, an initiative “of the devil, who wants to destroy,” he said.
Referring to the Ukrainian children he met during his audiences, the head of the Catholic Church was saddened that they have “forgotten their smile.”
During the talks, the bishops and the Pope returned to the recent controversy sparked by his reference to “great Russia” and to Catherine II and Peter the Great during a videoconference with young Russian Catholics. The Pontiff referred to his clarification given on the plane returning from his trip to Mongolia on September 4. At the press conference, he clarified that he had asked young people to “assume their heritage,” while insisting that he “wasn’t thinking of imperialism when he said that.”
Some of what the Pope said on the flight:
The third point, perhaps it was inopportune, but in speaking of great Russia, not in a geographical sense, but in a cultural sense, I remembered what we were taught at school about Peter I, Catherine II; hence this third aspect came up, which perhaps wasn’t quite correct. I don’t know. The historians can tell us. But it was an additional thought that came to my mind because I had studied it at school. Yet, I told the young Russians to take charge of their legacy, to shoulder their legacy,
The communiqué from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church goes into more detail on this subject. It reports that during the audience, Pope Francis denounced situations where “the cultural heritage of a people undergoes ‘dilution’ and is subjected to manipulations from the side of a certain state power, as a result of which it is transformed into an ideology that destroys and kills. It is a great tragedy when such an ideology intrudes into the Church and replaces the Gospel of Christ,” added the 266th Pope, according to the UGCC.
The bishops told the Bishop of Rome that certain statements and gestures of “the Holy See and Your Holiness are painful and difficult for the Ukrainian people, who are currently bleeding in the struggle for their dignity and independence.” The misunderstandings that have arisen between Ukraine and the Vatican since the start of the war, they also explained, are being“used by Russian propaganda to justify and support the murderous ideology of the ‘Russian World.’”
“I am with the Ukrainian people,” Francis affirmed, according to the UGCC statement. He acknowledged that doubting the pope’s solidarity could be “particularly painful for the Ukrainian people.”
The Holy Father asks the faithful to pray for Ukraine at the end of every general audience and Angelus address.
Synod members asked the Pontiff to work for the release of two Redemptorist priests, Fr. Ivan Levytskyi and Fr. Bohdan Haleta, in captivity in Russia since November 2022. They presented him with personal items from these missionaries — a cross, a prayer book, and a rosary — to “testify to the suffering of our Church together with its people amid the horrors of the war caused by Russian aggression.”
Pope Francis said he prays every day before an icon of the Virgin Mary he had received as a gift when he was a young bishop in Argentina from His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the current Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Last but not least, the Pope expressed the wish that during the month of October, Catholic shrines should dedicate the prayers of the rosary to the cause of peace in Ukraine.
On September 5, on the second day of the UGCC assembly, Cardinal Pietro Parolin announced plans for a meeting with experts organized by the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission for the Church in Eastern Europe to examine the war situation in greater depth.