Ukraine plays referee between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow
Ukraine plays referee between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow
From many years now the feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul is a deep moment of dialogue between the Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, with the participation of delegates from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, if not of the Patriarch himself, to the liturgies celebrated by the Pope.
This dialogue with Benedict XVI has made incredible progress. Even the Primate of the Pope – main historical reason for the schism –is not taboo anymore and has become the object of ecumenical seminars.
During the current pontificate, even the relationships between the Church of Rome and the larger part of the Orthodoxy, that is the Church of Russia, have definitely improved. Both agree in addressing together the major priority for Christians in Europe today: a new evangelization of all of those who are far from faith. The same new evangelization which Benedict XVI has decided to dedicate a specific office of the Roman Curia.
At a practical stage though, there is still an obstacle that stands between Rome and Moscow and that prevents the meeting of the Pope with the Russian Patriarch. Meeting that has never taken place in history, but that both Benedict and Kirill I wish with all their hearts.
This obstacle is Ukraine.
For the Russians Ukraine is their homeland. Russia rose from Kiev, more than a thousand years ago from the Viking principality of Rus, it is here that it converted itself to Christianity, and it is here that it still has the archetypes of its faith, of its art, of its liturgy, of its monasticism, it is here where it gets its vocations and most of its financial support.
But in Ukraine is where there is also the largest Eastern -Rite Catholic population of the world, more than five million. They are very similar to the Orthodox, in the Greek-Byzantine liturgies, in their traditions and in their married clergy. They are different only because they obey to the Pope.
The relationship with the Pope that some Ukrainian Christians have, is due to historical events, the alternating dominations now and then of the Poles and of the Russians. Poland favoured it. Russia hindered it. At the end of the 1700's, when Poland disappeared as a State and the Russians occupied the region and imposed Orthodoxy, the Ukrainians faithful to the Pope moved to Galicia which was part of Vienna's Catholic empire. It is here that in the 1800's the myth of the Slav Pope capable of giving them a victory was born.
But during the Second World War the Soviet Union occupied all of Ukraine; even the Greek-Catholic Church that had survived in Galicia was wiped out. In 1946 Moscow organized at Lvov, Russian name for the Ukrainian Lviv, a so called synod which obliged everyone to turn to Orthodoxy. The Archbishop Josyf Slipji, legitimate head of the Greek-Catholics was put in prison. He will be released and exiled in 1963.
In 1989 thanks to the fall of the Berlin wall the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church was able to leave its catacombs with its Bishops, its priests and its faithful. It immediately claimed the Orthodox Church to give back the churches and the houses. In some cases, few, the rendering was carried out peacefully. But in many other areas the issue was a reason for physical conflict, with violent occupations and ejections. A conflict which is still today only partially resolved.
In 2001 Pope John Paul II galvanized the Catholics when he visited Ukraine and canonized 27 martyrs of the Communist regime, one of which was killed in boiling water, another crucified in prison and another buried alive.
But for the Orthodox and the Russians, mindful of the past conflicts, the Polish nationality of this Pope was perceived as a threat. In each of Karol Wojtyla's decisions which concerned the vast territory «of all Russia» – from the nominee of new Bishop to the dispatch of a new missionary – the Patriarchate of Moscow perceived it as an intolerable act of invasion.
The most hated and feared decision would have been the elevation of the Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, with seat in Kiev. Nothing in fact is more intolerable, for the Russian ecclesiology, than a rival «Roman» Patriarchate in a territory with an already existing Orthodox Patriarchate. Even more so where there is the Patriarchate of Moscow which from the XVIth century is known with the title of «Third Rome».
At the end of 2003 the elevation of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Patriarchate was practically done. The successor of Slipji, the Major Archbishop and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (in the photo), moved to Kiev, near his new «Patriarchal» church which was being built. From Rome Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, sent to the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II, a letter announcing that Pope John Paul II was intending to establish in Kiev a Greek-Catholic Patriarchate. Attached to the letter there was a long document with the canonical and historical evidence supporting this decision.
Heaven forbid. Alexy II showed Kasper's letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Costantinople, Bartholomew I. After reading it he wrote a furious reply to John Paul II, pointing out what catastrophe for the ecumenical dialogue would the Greek-Catholic Patriarchate in Kiev be. The letter to the Pope of Bartholomew I, dated November 29, 2003, was revealed on the Catholic International monthly «30 Days», published in Rome, directed by Senator Giulio Andreotti and compulsory reading in the Vatican.
The Vatican decided to put a halt on the situation. Kasper flew to Moscow to declare that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Patriarchate was not anymore amongst the decisions in agenda. But in Ukraine the situation was very tense. From Rome, a proud supporter of the Greek-Catholics, the American Jesuit Robert Taft, Professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and international expert of the Byzantine and Slav world, in an interview to John Allen of «National Catholic Reporter» suggested to get down to facts: proclaiming autonomously the Patriarchate and only afterwards ask Rome to recognize something which had already taken place. Considering the Orthodox objections he said: «It is useless trying to convince them. Take it or leave it. To hell with Moscow».
At the end of John Paul II's pontificate this was the situation. In Ukraine it was war between Catholics and Orthodox. War of the two Patriarchates.
Today instead, just a few years later, between first and third Rome there seems to be peace. Benedict XVI is not Polish but German and this is an important difference. He is a theologian who knows the ecclesiology of the Eastern Churches.
Since Joseph Ratzinger is Pope, there is no mention of new Greek-Catholic Patriarchate. He doesn’t mention it and the Ukrainians don't either.
In 2008, at the end of January, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Bishops were invited to an «ad limina» visit to the Vatican. It was the first time after 70 years. Not a single word was mentioned on the Patriarchate.
Considering the relationship with the Orthodox, the Pope told them: «We have to humbly recognize that on this issue there still are real obstacles».
But the Pope also encouraged peace first of all amongst Catholics, that is to put aside the «misunderstandings» in Ukraine between Greek-Catholics and Roman Catholics who are nearly all Polish and not too well off.
What Benedict XVI mostly invokes is common action between Catholics and Orthodox in order to re-evangelize the vast population that in Ukraine has abandoned the Christian faith, after decades of Atheist domination. This need is considered as particularly important also by the Patriarchate of Moscow, guided today by Kirill I.
In Ukraine it is estimated, that on a population of 50 million inhabitants, the Orthodox are 30%, the Catholics are 10%, the Protestants are 3%, the Jews nearly 1%. The declared Atheists are 15%. «All the others are far from faith, are not part of any Church, are however open and willing to accept God’s message with concern and great interest. For this reason, we have to go towards them and introduce Christ to them. This is a great evangelization challenge for us». So affirmed the Major Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, while he was in Rome for his «ad limina» visit, in an interview to «L'Osservatore Romano».
From that «ad limina» visit till today another couple of facts have to be pointed out. A positive one and a negative one.
Positive news happened just a few days ago. A delegation of the Patriarchate of Moscow headed by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk met, in Warsaw, a delegation of Polish Bishops, headed by the Archbishop Primate of Gniezno Henryk Muszynski, to agree on a common declaration of reciprocal forgiveness, of reconciliation and of cooperation between the two Churches.
Considering the secular conflicts that took place between Orthodox Russia and Catholic Poland, it is a real turning point. The two delegations compared their drafts of the future document and left each other with faith on rapid progress. The next meeting will be held in Moscow.
Negative news concerns the Ukrainian Catholic University, in Lviv, the only Catholic University within the ex Soviet Union, defined by Benedict XVI «as a valid support to ecumenical action».
On May 18, the SBU agents, the Ukrainian security services that took over from the notorious KGB, paid a visit to the Rector, Borys Gudziak, 50 years old, born in the United States with a Harvard Ph. D in Byzantine and Slav literature and history, pretending his signature on a collaboration letter with the services.
Gudziak publicly revealed this arrogant episode and on May 26 the authorities declared that a mistake had occurred. In any case, this act is part of growing pressures against civil rights and against the Catholic Church which have got worse, since the rise in power in February, of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich.
The Greek-Catholic Church – who in these elections and in the ones before has always sided with the pro-Western candidates – has seen its situation get worse with the victory of Yanukovich. It is still waiting to be completely legally recognized. The churches, the convents, the schools, the hospitals which were given back after the fall of the Soviet Union do not receive financial aid in order to be restored and work again.
Vice versa, public funding goes to the Orthodox Church, considered State religion. The new President is in contact only with the Orthodox Church, neglecting the Greek-Catholic Church.
The Rector Gudziak and others along with him believe that the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, in Ukraine, should support the ecumenical words of brotherhood addressed to the Church of Rome, with facts.
by Sandro Magister
28.06.2010, 1135 просмотров.