By Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis lamented “tension and conflict” in Ukraine and prayed for “peace and tranquility” there on the country’s Independence Day.
The pope made his remarks Aug. 24, after praying the Angelus with a crowd in St. Peter’s Square.
“My thoughts go in a particular way to the beloved land of Ukraine,” he said, “to all its sons and daughters, to their yearning for peace and tranquility, threatened by a situation of tension and conflict that continues unabated, causing so much suffering among the population.”
Fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces continues in the eastern part of the country, having killed more than 2,000 and displaced more than 30,000 over the past several months.
“Let us entrust the whole nation to the Lord Jesus and to the Madonna, and let us pray together above all for the victims, their families, and all those who suffer,” the pope said.
In an off-the-cuff addition to his prepared remarks, Pope Francis mentioned a letter he had received from a Ukrainian bishop, recounting “all the pain” of the people there.
“Let us pray together to the Madonna for this beloved land of Ukraine, on its Independence Day,” he said, then led the crowd in reciting the Hail Mary.
Meantime, Ukraine’s Catholic leaders condemned the threat to their country’s territorial integrity and prayed for a speedy end to hostilities.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, issued a rebuttal to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow’s claims that that the Ukrainian Catholic Church and its priests were fomenting hatred and violence against believers who belong to the Orthodox Church affiliated with Moscow.
Patriarch Kirill had made the claims in an Aug. 14 letter to the patriarchs and heads of Orthodox churches around the world and in a similar letter Aug. 18 to the U.N., the European Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In reply, Archbishop Shevchuk wrote Aug. 21 to the world’s Catholic bishops’ conferences and global political leaders saying the fighting in eastern Ukraine was the result of “foreign-supported destabilization, separatism and terrorist activity.”
“The tragedy that Ukraine is experiencing today, due to military aggression, is a tragedy for all peoples, believers of all faiths and all social groups,” he said. “Buildings, churches and monasteries of all religious and ethnic groups are being damaged or destroyed.”