July 09, 2019

Ecumenism, the dream of the Patriarchate for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

By Andrea Gagliarducci
Pope Francis and the Metropolitan bishops and the members of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Apostolic Palace, Sala Bologna, July 5, 2019 - credit Vatican Media / ACI Group
Pope Francis and the Metropolitan bishops and the members of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Apostolic Palace, Sala Bologna, July 5, 2019 - credit Vatican Media / ACI Group

According to Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has the mission to be the catalyst of dialogue and unity. The head of the biggest of the 23 Churches Sui iuris (i.e. Churches granted of their rite and jurisdiction) wraps up with CNA the outcomes of the two-day meeting in the Vatican summoned by Pope Francis.

The meeting took place on July 5-6. 2019. It gathered around the same table Metropolitans and members of the Synod of the Greek Catholic Church and officials of the Roman Curia who have some interest in Ukraine. Pope Francis took part in both of the days of the meeting.

For the first time, Pope Francis mentioned that a “hybrid war” is taking place in Ukraine and for the first time a release by the Holy See Press Office described the situation in Ukraine as a war and not as a conflict. 

Topics of discussions of the meeting were: the war in Ukraine, the ecumenical challenge of Eastern Catholic Churches, the catechism as a mean of unity. 

Major Archbishop Shevchuk told CNA that “Pope Francis himself wanted the meeting, and he chaired it both of the days and not just the initial day as it was previewed.”

According to the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Pope wants that Eastern Churches develop and flourish. Eastern Churches are always labeled as uniates, that means Churches who celebrated a union with Rome.

Major Archbishop Shevchuk noted that uniatism as a method to re-establish the full and visible unity of the Church of Christ is over because it is a method “that breaks a Church and makes part of this breach be absorbed by another Church” which “creates divisions and do not help to heal the wounds. 

However, he underscored that the notion of uniatism is used to “question the real existence of Catholic Eastern Churches,” which are “alive people and vibrant Churches.” 

The Pope makes the distinction between the method and the people, said Beatitude Shevchuk, and noted that the meeting started a methodology in addressing the issues of Catholic Eastern Churches. “We presented to the Pope our experience of being a Synod,” he said. 

He then added that “the focal point of our reflection has been the war in Ukraine: to everybody, it is clear that this was is foreign aggression, that Ukraine is a victim of the aggression and that the was is a hybrid war, often forgotten or biased. 

In his report, Major Archbishop pointed out there are two ways to refer to Ukraine: with Ukraine, Ukrainian means the identity of a people and the State as subject of international law and that is living the decolonizing process; by Ukraine, “the aggressor, that is the Russian Federation, means a territory that is object of negotiations and geopolitical interest, a provisional or “failed’ State where “a people does not exist.” 

“The war in Ukraine is, in the end, a colonial war, fought in the heart of Europe, intending to re-establish an empire,” said Major Archbishop Shevchuk. 

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said he presented to the Holy Father the wish of his people to defend his country, that is “a country on the path out of colonization,” that lived three revolutions: the Revolution on Granite in 1990, that ended with the declaration of independence and the dissolution of Soviet Union; the “Orange Revolution” in 2004; and finally the “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013. 

The Church, Beatitude Shevchuk said, accompanied this path of liberation as “master of liberation,” because they wish to be free “is born out of the conscience of your dignity.”

“During the times of the Soviet Union, the Church, especially our clandestine Church, has always been an oasis for human dignity, as the communist totalitarian world canceled the human dignity and the Church have always been the ultimate refuge for this dignity,” the Major Archbishop said.

Freedom is a manifestation of dignity, and it is a spiritual phenomenon, as “one can be free even when in prison, as our martyrs testify.”

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church noted that the Church’s commitment to being “master of liberation” might also help the ecumenical movement.

Shevchuk said: “I spoke about a colonial war moved against Ukraine by an aggressor that wants to keep our nation at the peripheries of a big empire. I am convinced that great ecumenical advancement experienced during the second half of the 20th century is an outcome of the process of decolonization: as soon as geopolitical and worldly interests freed the spiritual life, the Churches regained their capacity to dialogue.” 

“The problem with ecumenism in Ukraine and the whole territory of the ex-Soviet Union is that decolonization has not yet happened. The Churches were often servants and instruments of the state authorities,” he added. 

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is very committed in the ecumenical dialogue, Major Archbishop Shevchuk said. 

“We want, he stressed, take care of the relations with all the churches in Ukraine, and in particular with Orthodox confessions that represent the 71 percent of the Christian population. We look for any opportunity to collaborate, especially to help the people that are enduring the war. In the end, a bomb makes no distinction between Catholics and Orthodox, or Polish, Ukrainian or Russian speakers: it kills everyone.” 

Beatitude Shevchuk said that “ecumenical identity is part of the identity of an Eastern Catholic Church: we have the same theology, the same canonical praxis of our Orthodox brothers. We need to put into practice.” 

Establishing some bilateral official dialogue between the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Orthodox confessions will be the first step. 

The second step will be “thinking how to apply in the local pastoral framework the fruits of the ecumenical dialogue at a global level,” starting from “the work of the Joint Catholic-Orthodox International Theological Commission,” said Shevchuk.

One crucial point will be the mutual recognition of the sacraments. 

Major Archbishop Shevchuk underscored that he does not know the reason why Pope Francis summoned the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and not any of the other Sui iuris churches, but he noted that “the final release of the meeting speaks about a new methodology, and perhaps tomorrow the Pope will summon other Catholic Eastern Churches, to let also these churches to flourish.” 

In conclusion, Major Archbishop Shevchuk spoke about three dreams of the Greek Catholic Ukrainian Church.

The first is Pope Francis’ visit to Ukraine. “Pope Francis’ visit to Ukraine would end the war,” Major Archbishop said. 

The second dream is the recognition of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as a Patriarchate. Currently, it is a Major Archbishop. There is some slight difference: when there is a Patriarch, the Pope is informed of his election and grants the ecclesiastical communion; when there is Major Archbishop, the Pope need to confirm the vote to make it valid. 

The decision to tailor the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as a Major archbishopry was not to create problems with orthodox Patriarchate.

Major Archbishop Shevchuk said that the request to become a Patriarchate was on the table, and that “the Patriarchate is a way of being, not a medal of honor. It is a tool to make our Church flourish, as it increases our effectiveness and our pastoral work.”

He added that “our Church is not a danger for our Orthodox brothers. We are not against someone, but for Someone.”

According to the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Patriarchate is also needed to face new challenges given by the high rate of migrants – every year, one million people leave Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian ministry for foreign affairs. 

Ukrainians also back the beatification of Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky, that led the Greek Catholic Church from 1901 to 1944. 

“He was, major archbishop Shevchuk maintains, the first to understand that our is a global Church. When he was our metropolitan, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had just three eparchies in Western Ukraine, and now there are 34 all over the world. He was the first to highlight the need to meet the pastoral needs of migrants. We are now harvesting the fruits of his work.” 

These three dreams are “closer than before the meeting.” Major Archbishop Shevchuk, however, underscored that “the two-day meeting was not intended to make decisions already made within some dicastery. They have been days of study, analysis, and reflections. We are now waiting for concrete decisions.”

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.