War and Refugees Dominate Bishops’ Speech at Ukrainian Catholic Synod Meeting on Synodality

Before the Russian invasion earlier this year, most members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) lived in Ukraine.

But with more than 12 million Ukrainians fleeing their homes in the past six months, the UGCC finds many of its members scattered. Those who have left and those who remain are suffering.

Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops gather ahead of a Eucharistic liturgy July 7, during the opening session of a synodal meeting in Przemyśl, Poland. Credit: Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Information Office.

So when the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops recently held their first in-person meeting since 2019, their scheduled conversation on synodality was largely replaced by discussions of the ongoing war in Ukraine and its consequences for the Church.

The July 7-15 synod gathering for Ukrainian Catholic bishops was part of the Church’s synod on synodality. But several bishops suggested that the UGCC is already a strongly synodal body, and the conversation focused on the plight of refugees, the treatment of trauma and the pastoral care of soldiers and victims.

“Our Church provides a lot of aid to the victims, but we also see that at the beginning there was a lot of humanitarian aid, now there is less, and all this requires good coordination so that the aid reaches those who need it most,” said Archbishop Vasyl Tuchapets, Exarch of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, who leads social ministry efforts for the Ukrainian Church.

“We see that children are suffering the most today. Some families cannot move to safe places. The constant stressful situation seriously affects their overall health. Because of constant stress and fear, some stop talking; they sleep very badly at night. Many children sit in basements all day.

The bishop said The pillar that the Church has made efforts to organize events where children can play games and interact socially.

The synod meeting brought together 40 Ukrainian Catholic bishops from Ukraine, Central, Northern and Western Europe, North and South America and Australia. It was the first time they could meet live in three years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The July meeting of bishops was to take place in Ukraine. But because of the ongoing war, it was moved to Przemyśl in Poland, near the Ukrainian border, one of the oldest episcopal sees of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Poland has also taken in the highest number of Ukrainian refugees since the Russian attack on Ukraine in February. The bishops were able to visit various parishes and communities that helped Ukrainians forced to flee their homes.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk preaches in the St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Przemyśl during a divine liturgy on July 7. Credit: Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Information Office.

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Tuchapets told The pillar that he recently visited a psychiatric rehabilitation clinic, which was overcrowded with the military, who are struggling to come to terms with their experience and the loss of their comrades. He said there is a great need to build more rehabilitation centers for civilians and military.

Yurii Pidlisnyi, chairman of the UGCC Commission on the Family and the Laity, said he believed the social teaching of the Catholic Church had a vital role to play in rebuilding Ukraine after the end war, just as it did in Western Europe after the Second World War.

“This war has stirred up so many Christians in Europe and around the world,” he said. “I have spoken to many representatives of Justice and Peace commissions in various countries, and they wonder what ‘justice’ means and what ‘peace’ means today.

“They see the need to rethink these important categories because every era, every war and every conflict brings its corrections, especially when one of the parties, in the spirit of post-modernity, in the spirit of post- truth, completely ignores both peace and justice”.

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Discussing the pastoral care of refugees, Bishop Stepan Sus, Curial Bishop of the Major Archdiocese of Kyiv Halych, said The pillar that there is a significant difference between the countries where the Church is already present, and those where it is not.

“In some countries we already have an established structure, which is often very helpful for people, because they first come to church and seek support and help there. But there is [other] country where we have no parishes, and now people are asking to send a priest there.

Sus heads the UGCC’s Pastoral and Migration Department, which aims to help Ukrainian Catholics in areas without UGCC parishes. His office strives to identify people’s needs and work with other religious and government entities to help meet them.

“When we talk about the vocation of our Church, it is to be with our people where they are and in the different circumstances of their lives. At this time, we first analyze where our faithful are at this when, where they moved, and how long they will stay there. And we understand that today it is difficult to get reliable data because we do not know how long people will stay where they are “, did he declare.

“People are constantly moving now because they are looking for better living conditions, which makes our work more difficult,” he continued. “For example, 800,000 people have crossed the Hungarian border, but it is difficult to say how many of them are currently in this country and how many have moved.”

Among the Ukrainian refugees, the bishop said The pillar, many people come from the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, which during the Soviet Union had experienced the most vigorous atheist propaganda. Even today, people today often remain largely secularized compared to western Ukraine. Now, forced to leave their homeland, some encounter faith in a new way.

“For many people, these tragic events also marked a turning point in their understanding of the Church and the spiritual life,” he said. “Some did not even know the Our Father. I often tell our priests that they may have dreamed one day of going on a mission to eastern Ukraine. Now they have the opportunity to live this experience in Spain, Portugal or the Baltic States. »

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The bishops made several governance decisions at the synod, including approving a new translation of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom into Ukrainian and updating the Strategy for the Development of Social Ministry within the UGCC.

In their discussion of synoldity, the bishops noted unique structures in the Eastern Catholic Churches – which they believe already lend themselves to a more synodal mode of operation.

“At the call of the Pope, we have entered into the synodal process of the whole Catholic Church with two objectives: to deepen our understanding of the synodal nature of the Eastern Churches and of the different levels of synodality that exist in our Church,…[and] Second, as an Eastern Church, we were thinking about what we could share with the whole universal Church,” Auxiliary Bishop Teodor Martyniuk of Ternopil said. The pillar.

The listening and inclusion called for by Pope Francis already exists in the Eastern Catholic Churches in the form of parish councils, diocesan assemblies (sobors) in which laity and clergy participate, as well as a patriarchal assembly (sobor ) which is held every five years at which clergy and laity from all UGCC dioceses around the world are represented, he said.

Martyniuk – who has been elected UGCC delegate to the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops, to be held in Rome in October 2023 – said he is convinced that the Eastern Churches do not need to create new forms of synodality, but rather to improve those that already exist.

He also noted that the UGCC is not a territorial reality, like the episcopal conferences corresponding to certain countries. This influences the synodal process, he said.

“The summary reports to the General Secretariat of the Vatican Synod of Bishops prepared by the Roman Catholic episcopal conferences are rooted in the context of their countries,” he said. “Our synthesis could not be limited to Ukraine; we had to remember all our people living in different countries.

Pidlisnyi noted that there have been different proposals made on the meaning of synodality.

“For some it’s an activation of the laity,” he said. “But another understanding is that the laity should participate in all decision-making in the Church. Some circles, for example, suggest that even questions of a moral nature should be decided by some consensus, by a balance of opinion. But that would be tantamount to eliminating the Church because even in two neighboring dioceses or parishes there can be a completely different “consensus”.

In the UGCC, Pidlisnyi continued, the laity have long played an important role, “and the Church owes much to the laity who kept it alive during the period of Soviet persecution in the catacombs. Lay people hid underground priests and organized secret services in their homes.

Lay people, Pidlisnyi said, “already have convenient ways to convey their opinion to the synod of bishops,” he said. “Now it is important that the laity go beyond the walls of the church and, with their knowledge of the social teaching of the Church, can influence what is done at the local or national level, to influence the legislative process.”

“The UGCC became a prominent member of civil society quite a long time ago,” he said. “It would be ideal to strengthen these opportunities for a wider evangelization of society, that is, to shape the agenda of social processes. And it is a task for all laity, clergy and bishops – this is our “synodal way” – so that it does not happen like in the 19th century, when the Church was 50 years behind in its teaching. social and observed how Marx and Engels shaped the political agenda in Europe.

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