Ukrainian Church leader thanks priests who stayed with people in liberated Kherson

Archbishop Major Sviatoslav Shevchuk, celebrating the feast of St. Josaphat in St. Peter’s Basilica, compares Church leaders in occupied territory to the Good Shepherd.

Speaking at a special liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Saturday, the leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church thanked the bishops, priests and monks of Kherson, Ukraine, for imitating the Good Shepherd then that their region was under Russian occupation.

Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church spoke as Ukrainians celebrated what appears to be a major victory in the defense of their nation against Russian aggression. Russia this week withdrew its troops from Kherson, a Black Sea port city and the only regional capital Russia has managed to capture since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces began securing the town on Friday [photo above shows people from Kherson living temporarily in Odesa celebrating the liberation].

“All the signs show that we have nothing to fear,” Bishop Chevtchouk said during his homily in Saint-Pierre.

At the tomb of Saint Josaphat

The Major Archbishop, who this week visited Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and various Vatican departments, led a divine liturgy at the tomb of Saint Josaphat Kuntsevich, an archbishop of the Ruthenian Catholic Church who was killed by an angry mob in Vitebsk. , in the eastern peripheries of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (now Belarus). He is the best-known victim of anti-Catholic violence linked to the establishment of the Union of Brest, which brought several Ukrainian Orthodox bishops to communion with Rome and which is at the origin of the Greek Catholic Church. Ukrainian.

The liturgy of November 12, the feast day of Saint Josaphat, launched a jubilee year leading to the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Josaphat.

Saturday’s event, however, came as Ukrainian forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson.

“Today we want to thank you for the liberation of Kherson, for the fact that our fathers did not leave this city,” Shevchuk told a large gathering near the altar of the tomb of Saint Josaphat. in Saint Peter. “We would like to thank the Basilian Fathers of St. Volodymyr Monastery and all our other priests from Beryslav, Zmiivka and other parishes.”

Saint Josaphat was a monk of the Order of Saint Basil the Great — the Basilians.

“At a special moment in the history of our Church and of Ukraine, full of pain, blood, torment and suffering, we are gathered here, in the heart of Christendom, at the tomb of the Apostle Peter “, continued the Major Archbishop. “And the holy hieromartyr Jehoshaphat gathered us here.”

He reflected that “the main force of his figure, the force which, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, renewed the monasticism of Kyiv in his time, was a call to conversion, a call to all to cross the door open, which is Christ himself, in his sacrament of repentance, mercy.

“You won’t miss anything”

The reading of the Gospel during the liturgy was that of the Good Shepherd. “And what is his goodness? Shevchuk said in his homily. “He does not leave the sheep, He knows what they need. He heals their wounds, leads them to safety.

“These words about Christ the Lord Jesus as Good Shepherd have been read again and again by each of our bishops, priests, abbots of one or other monastery, when they saw the Russian army approaching”, did he declare. “When he had to make a difficult choice – what to do: stay here, where he is, or leave the occupied territory, this community, these people? And today, I want us all to be thankful together that our Church has good shepherds like our Savior Jesus Christ.

“Let us remember these words: ‘Even when I walk through the shadow of death, I will not be afraid. Because he is with me, he is the rod of my salvation, he is the staff of my fortress’ , Shevchuk said. Referring to the bones of Saint Jehoshaphat, buried under the altar, he continued: “Today we feel here, at these holy relics, an indescribable power coming to us. We will all return home , we will return to Ukraine, which is suffering and bleeding, and we will return filled with the word of God concerning the Good Shepherd who is with us and says: “You will lack nothing”.

The truth about Ukraine

Commenting on his week in Rome, which was only the second time he had left Ukraine since the February invasion, Shevchuk said he had come “to present the truth about Ukraine to the Holy Father and the world, to be the voice of this long-suffering people.”

On Monday, November 7, he met Pope Francis, telling him that Ukraine cannot negotiate with Russia as long as Moscow treats its neighbor like a colony to be subjugated.

“The war in Ukraine is a colonial war, and the proposals for peace coming from Russia are proposals for colonial appeasement,” he told the Pope. “These proposals imply the denial of the existence of the Ukrainian people, of their history, of their culture and even of the Church. It is the denial of the very right to existence of the Ukrainian state, recognized by the international community with its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On Wednesday, November 9, Shevchuk visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at his residence at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican. He spoke to Benoît about the consequences of the war in Ukraine and asked him to “continue to pray for peace in our country”. The pope emeritus asked Shevchuk to convey words of support and his blessing to all Ukrainian people.

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Martha J. Finley