The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church says Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, telephoned Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk on Monday to express “the Holy See’s closeness to the Catholic Church in Ukraine and solidarity with the people of the country, at this difficult time of escalation of the conflict around Ukraine.”
The statement from the Ukrainian church said Shevchuk informed Parolin of the service that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is performing under the current conditions of the threat of large-scale Russian invasion and thanked the Holy See for its constant attention to the situation.
“In this troubled moment, I wish to express to you, Your Beatitude, to the Episcopate, to the priests and faithful of the Church you lead and to all the Ukrainian people the support of the Holy See, manifest its solidarity and assure prayers for all,” Parolin reportedly said during the conversation.
According to Shevchuk’s secretary, the archbishop expressed gratitude for “the new appeal, made yesterday [Sunday] by Pope Francis, to pray for peace in Ukraine and to avert the threat of war.”
In his Angelus remarks, the pontiff called the news from Ukraine “very worrying,” and entrusted “every effort for peace to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and to the conscience of the political leaders. Let us pray in silence.”
“The Ukrainian people feel the Holy Father’s special solicitude for peace in Ukraine and appreciate the Holy See’s diplomatic efforts aimed at overcoming the current international crisis,” the statement quotes Shevchuk as saying.
The Vatican did not confirm the contents of the telephone call.
The United States and its NATO allies have been warning of an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which has massed more than 130,000 troops near the border. Russia claims it is just performing military drills, and on Tuesday announced some of the troops will be returning to base.
Ukraine achieved independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, and the same year began supporting a separatist war in the country’s eastern Donbas region.
On Sunday during his homily in the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kiev, Shevchuk said the reality of Ukraine as an independent state is as “irrevocable” as Christ’s Resurrection.
“Many consider us in great danger, and Kiev, Ukraine’s capital – a dangerous place on earth, from where citizens and diplomats of foreign countries are being withdrawn,” he said.
The major archbishop also recalled that February 17 marks the 130th anniversary of the birth of Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyj, “a confessor of faith” and a long-time prisoner of Stalin’s concentration camps.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had been outlawed by the Soviet Union, and only reemerged with the creation of the independent Ukrainian state. Today, it claims more than 5 million faithful and 3,000 priests, with 100 new priests ordained each year, and more than 800 seminarians.
Quoting his predecessor, who spent two decades in a gulag, Shevchuk said that he had been among the first to tell the world about the “mountains of corpses and rivers of blood,” that Ukraine had become under Soviet rule. Over 3,000 Greek Catholic Ukrainian priests died in the gulags, but Slipyj was “released” after 18 years, in time to take part in the Second Vatican Council. He was never allowed to return home.
“We remember how Ukraine resurrected due to the power of God’s grace, restored its statehood and its unity for which whole generations of our predecessors were fighting for,” Shevchuk said. “And we know it was God’s work. Staying here in our Patriarchal Cathedral today we are asking you, Lord, despite all our sins and merits, to preserve freedom for us today as you did 35 years ago.”