ROME – Ukraine’s Roman and Greek Catholic bishops have declared the next 12 months a “Year of Mercy” dedicated to showing solidarity with the poor and needy, specifically those most impacted by the ongoing war with Russia.
Ukraine’s Roman Catholic bishops held their annual plenary assembly Nov. 25, which was preceded by a retreat and a joint meeting attended by both the Roman and Greek Catholic bishops.
In a final communique, the bishops announced that they have declared the 12-month period from Nov. 27, 2022, until the Feast of Christ the King on Nov. 26, 2023, as a “Year of Mercy.”
This time, the bishops said, ought “to make people sensitive to the needs of their neighbors, who are already experiencing difficulty during wintertime, and who will also increasingly feel the consequences and burden of war.”
The Russia-Ukraine war is now in its ninth month following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. There have been thousands of casualties and millions have been displaced by the ongoing violence, both internally and those who have fled abroad and are living as refugees.
Russian troops have been accused of war crimes in occupied cities and in recent weeks, Russia missile attacks have targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing major outages and power shortages that have left millions without heat or electricity with cold winter temperatures continuing to drop.
In their statement, Ukraine’s Roman Catholic bishops said they held a meeting with the Vatican’s envoy to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, in which the humanitarian situation was discussed, as well as the Holy See’s intervention in the release of prisoners.
An update was also provided on child safeguarding efforts in Ukraine, as well as the status of local initiatives unfolding as part of the pope’s Synod of Bishops on Synodality, which is now in its second, continental stage.
Representatives from various aid groups, including Aid to the Church in Need and Caritas Spes, also attended to evaluate and discuss humanitarian needs on the ground, and highlight priority areas.
Father Vyacheslav Hrynevych, executive director of Caritas Spes, which is the Roman Catholic branch of the Caritas charity in Ukraine, gave the bishops an update on their work and activities since the outbreak of the war, and the support they have received from the international community.
A range of other issues were discussed, including the challenge of living consecrated life during times of war, as many parishes and convents have become humanitarian centers and refuges for civilians fleeing violence.
The Year of Mercy was called as two Greek Catholic priests were detained by Russian forces in Berdyansk in the Donetsk Exarchate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for allegedly housing explosives with the intention to commit “guerilla” activities against the Russian army.
In a statement, the Donetsk Exarchate said the allegations were both “false” and “slanderous,” as the priests had never ventured beyond the pastoral scope of their ministry, and amounted to a strategy typical of Soviet-era propaganda to discredit clergy.
The use of these strategies, the exarchate said, is indicative of a “complete disregard for the fundamental principles of human rights.”
Calling the evidence allegedly found against the clergy fabricated, they said the priests were spiritual guides who were focused on ministering to their people, and who “had no intention” of using weapons or doing any harm.
Their detention, the exarchate said, is indicative of the Russians’ intention “to use further terror against the imprisoned fathers,” who “Only because of their loyalty to God and the Church” are being falsely incriminated.
They demanded the “speedy release from custody and imprisonment” of the priests, as well as their “unhindered” return to ministry, and asked faithful to join them in praying for the clergy’s release.
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