Ukraine needs your prayers.
To be more specific, Catholic Ukraine needs your prayers. And although the situation remains in flux, the need for intercession is constant.
While most Catholics in the world are Roman Catholics (i.e. part of the Latin Rite), the Catholic Church also includes 22 other churches. The largest among them is the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
Ukrainian Greek-Catholics are Eastern in their theology, worship and spirituality but loyal to the Bishop of Rome as the visible Head of Church Catholic. For this, they have endured brutal persecution for centuries, most recently by Soviet Russia.
It seems only fitting then that we begin this guest post from Deb with a martyr: St Josaphat Kuntsevych, a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic saint, martyred in 1623.
[divider]A Guest Post[/divider]
Sviatoslav & Putin at the Vatican
Last November, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops made a pilgrimage to the Vatican, led by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav (Shevchuk). The purpose of the pilgrimage was to observe the 50th anniversary of the transferral of Saint Josaphat’s relics to the Vatican basilica. For this momentous event, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church sent a delegation to Rome, accompanied by the lay faithful and a delegation of Byzantine Catholics from Belarus. It was cause for great rejoicing.
As Pope Francis noted in his address to the pilgrims, “On 22 November 1963 Pope Paul VI had the body of St Josaphat placed under the altar dedicated to St Basil the Great, near the tomb of St Peter.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, the memory of this holy Martyr speaks to us about the Communion of Saints, about the communion of life among those who belong to Christ… I hope that the profound communion which you seek to deepen each day within the Catholic Church may help you to build bridges of fraternity also with the other Churches and ecclesial communities in Ukraine and abroad where your communities are present.”
Given today’s current events in Ukraine, it seems strange — even ironic — to consider that within hours after addressing an estimated three thousand happy pilgrims following their solemn pontifical liturgy in Saint Peter’s basilica on 25 November, Pope Francis received the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin on an official visit.
Yet while pilgrims were rejoicing in Rome, protesters were marching back home.
It was the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor, Stalin’s famine-genocide during 1932-33 where an estimated 10 million Ukrainians died. The government led by Yanukovych was suspending preparations to enter into a European Union trade pact. Independence Square – the now-famous Maidan – was the scene of peaceful protests until November 30.That night, police used excessive force to break up the demonstration… and the rest is bloody history.
In all, over one hundred people have been killed. Among them was Bohdan Solchanyk, a doctoral student and lecturer at Ukrainian Catholic University.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.”
But now, there isn’t even enough time to truly mourn the dead. As the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson wrote in his blog on March 1:
Job, in his affliction, lamented that God did not even give him time to swallow his spit… No one here had any illusion about the rough road ahead and the very real prospects of failure at forging a new Ukrainian nation. On top of such challenges is now heaped an unjustified, but coldly calculated foreign invasion and perhaps war…
We pray for peace, of course! We pray for deliverance, yes! We pray that the Lord of Hosts would fight for us against the foe! […] May the sorrowful Mother of God spread her protective mantle over her beloved people.”
Russian Persecution in Crimea
Now the world’s eyes have turned to Crimea, where the situation for Ukrainian Greek-Catholics is even dimmer. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has no legal status in Russia so it’s not known what will happen if/when Crimea is annexed to the Russian Federation. What we do know is that in Brussels, Vladimir Putin, the former KGB colonel referred to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic clergy as racist and anti-Semitic Uniate priests.” Ukrainian Catholics make up about 10% of the Crimean population.
Last week, Father Mykola Kvych, a pastor and a Ukrainian military chaplain, was abducted by pro-Russian forces in Crimea after celebrating the liturgy Saturday morning, March 15. Thankfully, he has been released. When reporting Father Mykola’s later release on Saturday, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Bishop Borys Gudziak noted that the clergy in Crimea have been terrorized.
“Yesterday, [Friday, March 14] another Greek Catholic priest returned to his home… to find on the destroyed door of his apartment a menacing sign: “Get out Vatican spies.” Police were standing outside the building.”
One priest, Father Milchakovskyi told the Catholic News Service:
“We fear our churches will be confiscated and our clergy arrested… Many have already stopped coming to church, after being branded nationalists and fascists by local provocateurs.”
Yet if anyone is capable of walking with the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics into the dark night, it is their own Father and Head of the Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk).
Some have compared Sviatoslav from Kiev to Karol from Cracow, our soon-to-be Saint John Paul the Great. How true that is. Major Archbishop Sviatoslav is only 43 but he his courage, gentleness, and wisdom is obvious to all.
The Greek-Catholic Church needs our prayers now, more than ever. And, her Father and Head turns to you:
“I beg you not to stop the prayer, because we still have a long way before we say that the Ukrainian people have won in their own land.”
Pray for Ukraine.
Pray for the dead, pray for their loved ones, pray for all Ukrainians, pray for the delicate political situation, pray for peace, particularly in the Crimea, pray for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, pray for Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, pray for the bishops, priests and the faithful. Pray for Ukraine.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
St Josaphat Kuntsevych, pray for us.
Blessed John Paul the Great, pray for us.