VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has invited Pope Francis to visit the war-torn nation, saying it would help bring peace.
“It would be a prophetic gesture that would show the power of prayer and Christian solidarity, give us courage and hope and build a better future for everyone,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych.
On behalf of Catholics, Orthodox Christians and “people of goodwill” in Ukraine, the archbishop personally invited the pope, telling journalists Feb. 23 that such a visit would “bring peace to that part of Eastern Europe soaked with the blood of so many martyrs for the unity of the church.”
The archbishop was in Rome following an “ad limina” visit Feb. 16-21 in which bishops from Ukraine’s Eastern- and Latin-rite traditions reported to the pope and the Vatican on the state of their dioceses.
Archbishop Shevchuk spoke to journalists about the bishops’ Feb. 20 meeting with Pope Francis.
He said the pope “truly listened to us with a paternal heart,” asking to hear about how the Ukrainian people, including their “Orthodox brothers and sisters,” were facing the current conflict and crisis.
After their closed-door talks with the pope, Archbishop Shevchuk said “our bishops felt not only welcomed, but also encouraged and above all reaffirmed that we have taken the right position” during the recent turmoil in Ukraine – that is, the position of “being at the side of one’s people, having the smell of sheep, listening carefully to the voice of our people – this is what the Holy Father asks us to do.”
“Ukraine is the victim” in this war with Russia, and “often Ukrainians feel abandoned, betrayed by politicians, big diplomats, by the powerful of this world.” But he said their meeting with the pope left them feeling that “the Holy Father is with us, he gives witness to us that God is always on the side of those who suffer,” he said. “We go home full of hope.”
In a written address that was handed out to the bishops, the pope asked them to focus on the social and human tragedies unfolding in their country and avoid politicizing their role as church leaders.
He asked the bishops to work together and be a clear moral voice calling for peace and harmony as well as strong defenders of families, the poor and weak.