Message from Bishop Borys Gudziak,
Bishop of the Eparchy St. Volodymyr the Great in Paris
for Ukrainian Greek-Catholics of France, Belgium, Netherlands,
Luxembourg and Switzerland at the Conference of Bishops of France (Lourdes, 4 November 2016)
On behalf of our Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, I would like to express the deep gratitude of the Ukrainian people for the solidarity of French and European Catholics. This fraternal support was fully demonstrated at the special collection launched by Pope Francis on April 24 for humanitarian needs in Ukraine.
In the current context of war, economic hardship, and humanitarian crisis, Churches and other religious organizations in Ukraine are “pastors imbued with ‘the smell of their sheep.” The army chaplains, parish priests, and lay volunteers are alongside men and women engaged in the defense and reconstruction of their country. Last Tuesday, the All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations held its meeting in Kramatorsk, a town near the field of Ukrainian-Russian fighting, and appealed for prayer and an exhortation to Peace.
The war in Ukraine continues, even if it no longer makes international headlines. Almost daily, new people die. Over the last thirty months, ten thousand people have been killed, including 500 women and 70 children. Nearly two million people have been displaced. This often-overlooked humanitarian component causes great suffering on the continent today. In France, Benelux, and Switzerland, in order to accompany pastorally Ukrainian migrants fleeing war and poverty, eleven new parishes and missions have been opened since 2014 by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church,with the fraternal support of local Catholic bishops.
The aggression of which Ukraine is a victim is military and economic—but also by means of media, through news channels Russia Today, Sputnik, and others. In their manipulation and intimidation, “nothing is true and therefore everything is possible.” The objective of misinformation in this “hybrid” war is not to defend an alternative version of the truth but to sow skepticism, to convince viewers that the situation is unclear, and create fundamental uncertainty about the facts.
With regard to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the term “political separatism” is often used. However, the term “directed terrorism” seem more appropriate in a region with 400 km of uncontrolled borders with the Russian Federation, where troops and weapons arrive systematically. Political normalization, stipulated by the Minsk agreements, is impossible before the full and final withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons. Only peace will allow the holding of free elections and the start of dialogue in a region rife today fear, violence and disregard for fundamental freedoms—including freedom of religion.
For this peace process, the support of the international community, including Christian solidarity are essential. In eastern Ukraine, a region once often violent and corrupt, it will be important to restore faith and hope in the future, introduce administrative competence, develop entrepreneurship, and support civil society. In Ukraine, an important precedent for transparency in public life has been created recently with electronic income statements of elected officials. The fight against corruption will be crucial in rebuilding these territories.