ROME – Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has said that if Pope Francis were to visit Ukraine, the conflict tearing its eastern region apart would come to an end.

Speaking to journalists July 8 following a two-day meeting between Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops and Vatican officials, Shevchuk said they invited Francis to visit Ukraine, voicing belief that a visit would help bring an end to an ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists plaguing the nation’s eastern region.

Francis has yet to answer the request, however, Shevchuck insisted that “if the pope puts his foot on Ukrainian soil, there will be no more war.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, the archbishop said, knows this.

Shevchuk spoke following a July 5-6 meeting at the Vatican with members of the permanent synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its metropolitan archbishops and the heads of all relevant Vatican departments.

The meeting began just a day after the pope met with Putin at the Vatican for a private conversation which also touched on the Ukraine conflict.

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Since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Russian-backed separatists have battled Ukrainian government forces in the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Thousands of others are missing, and over 1.5 million have been internally displaced.

In his comments to journalists, Shevchuck said the Vatican’s back-to-back meetings with Putin and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops was a “coincidence,” though he noted that the bishops’ meeting had been announced first.

Calling their meeting reflective and spiritual, Shevchuck said the bishops were open about the vast array of problems they face, with principle issues being the ongoing conflict and the humanitarian crisis it has prompted. Immigration was also a key issue to be discussed given that many people, including many young people, are leaving Ukraine to build a life elsewhere.

Shevchuck noted that Francis has taken a keen interest in Ukraine, offering significant financial support from his charities for the humanitarian cause, however, he would not elaborate on the amount of assistance they have received from the pontiff.

Most of the aid, Shevchuck said, has gone toward direct assistance with housing, heating, food and medicine in the conflict areas for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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