Last week I called my friend Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Major Archbishop for the Greek Catholics of Ukraine.
I have grown to admire this young, brave brother bishop over the last years, as we have often spent time in Rome together, and especially when I was with him last year for the dedication of the daring new Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kiev.
The Catholic Church in Ukraine is young, alive, growing, and prophetic. This, from a worldly point of view, is illogical, near miraculous, as Greek Catholics were viciously persecuted by Stalin in the years of Soviet oppression. Even after the breakup of the communist empire, and the restoration of freedom in Ukraine, Catholics were not given back their former churches that had been given to the Russian Orthodox, and the courageous yet decimated community almost had to start afresh.
Through the optic of the Gospel, we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” so believers are hardly surprised by the vitality and growth of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.
Archbishop Shevchuk, like his predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, now retired, is a true “confessor of the faith,” a pastor revered by his people, a leader in bringing unity, peace, and hope to a country threatened by thugs and thieves within, and an aggressor on the border.
I check in with him, because I worry about him, want to encourage him, and am inspired by him. My call last week found him uncharacteristically grim and apprehensive.
“Timothy, we are under attack! Our country is under siege from Russia! Our people are being murdered, their homes destroyed, not by alleged separatists in Ukraine wanting to return to Russia, but by Russian troops and mercenaries. Please see that the truth gets out. There is an invasion here.”
Last week, the Catholic bishops of Ukraine issued a chilling statement that their beloved country is “flowing in blood,” and urged Western governments – - like ours – - not to become “accomplices in the sin of murder.”
Just so we would understand, the Ukrainian bishops were blunt: “This peaceful, sovereign nation has been subjected to a direct military intervention by a Northern neighbor – - hundreds of units of heavy weaponry and technology, thousands of armed mercenaries and soldiers of Russia’s standing army are crossing our borders of Ukraine, sowing death and destruction.”
After the Second World War, when the Iron Curtain separated Central and Eastern Europe from the free democracies of the West, Catholics in the United States were in solidarity with persecuted Christians in Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, and the other countries under Russia’s jackboot. We spoke up for them; our government listened.
We had hoped it would now be different. Things looked so bright in Ukraine for awhile. It appeared that religion was free, the Church encouraging a just, open, civil society.
Apparently, a prosperous, free, independent Ukraine, with freedom of religion leading to a revived faith, is a threat to a neighbor with a history of interference. The jackboots have apparently come out of storage.
I asked my brave brother bishop how I could help. “Just keep getting the truth out! Please don’t let us down!”
On this Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I commend to you a Church and a Nation, Ukraine, with her at the foot of the Cross.