Ukrainian archbishop pushes against papal statements, says causes of war ‘lie within Russia itself’

ROME – A day after Pope Francis’s comments on the possibility of Russia being provoked by NATO into invading Ukraine were published, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said that those who think there was an external provocation are under the grip of Russian propaganda.

“The gift of reason from the Holy Spirit is so necessary in today’s world so that the devil’s wiles do not deceive the human person,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Living in a “world of fakes, when what is desired is presented as real,” the gift of reason from the Holy Spirit is necessary so as not to “succumb to this apparent fog that the tempter wants to inspire in us, so that they could delve into reality and understand and know it correctly.”

“This gift of the Holy Spirit is so necessary for those who have special responsibilities, special types of service in the church, society, and state,” Shevchuk said, without naming names.

His remarks were published on Wednesday afternoon on the official website of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and they came during his daily video reflection that he has been recording since the war began on Feb. 24.

The church teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are seven: wisdom, reason (also called understanding), counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. The archbishop has been reflecting on them since Sunday, when the Orthodox celebrated the feast of Pentecost.

Though Shevchuk would still have been reflecting on the gift of reason Wednesday, the words seem to be a direct response to comments made by several world leaders regarding the origin of the war. Many, including Pope Francis, have argued that NATO had been “barking” at Russia’s door.  On Tuesday, La Civiltà Cattolica published the full transcript of a conversation the pontiff had with editors of Jesuit-run media in May.

According to the transcript, Francis said, “There are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys here, in an abstract way. Something global is emerging, with elements that are very intertwined with each other.”

While condemning “the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops,” the pontiff also said that “we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved,” and he singled out the armaments industry as one of several factors incentivizing war.

He also quoted the opinion of a head of state he met several months before the start of the war who allegedly expressed his concern “about how NATO was moving.”

“I asked him why and he replied, ‘They are barking at Russia’s doorstep. And they don’t understand that the Russians are imperial and they don’t allow any foreign power to come near them’,” Francis said. The pontiff said this same person said, with the way NATO was acting, “the situation could lead to war.”

Shevchuk, who knows Pope Francis well because he attended seminary in Buenos Aires when the pontiff was archbishop there, contradicted these statements, saying that “the causes of this war lie within Russia itself. And the Russian aggressor is trying to solve its internal problems with the help of external aggression. It projects its illnesses onto others and blames the whole world for them.”

“We see and know, experiencing here in Ukraine, that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is completely unprovoked,” he said. “Anyone who thinks that some external cause has provoked Russia into military aggression is either themselves in the grip of Russian propaganda or is simply and deliberately deceiving the world.”

Shevchuk also said that Russia is moved by a “post-Soviet revanchism,” that has emerged in the form of extreme Russian nationalism with “genocidal features as the ideology of russkiy mir [the Russian world]. And Ukraine is its first victim.”

He closed the video asking for the faithful of the five-million strong Eastern Rite church to pray for politicians, diplomats, church and religious figures to receive the gift of reason from the Holy Spirit.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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