Roman Synod Aims to Strengthen Ties With Ukrainian Greek Catholics Amid Conflict

Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church meet for a synod at the Vatican. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church are meeting at the Vatican for a synod aimed at strengthening the Byzantine Rite church’s ties with Rome while maintaining its identity in the ongoing tug of war between East and West.

Ukrainian Greek Catholics, who make up the world’s largest Eastern church, are in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and are distinct from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which recently secured its independence from Russia.

The synod requires some delicate diplomacy for the Vatican, which under this pontificate has made numerous efforts to strengthen relations with Russia, notably signing a joint declaration with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow during Pope Francis’ February 2016 visit to Havana. This has made the pontiff hesitant to openly condemn Russia in the past, since addressing the conflict in Ukraine risks setting back the clock on relations with the Kremlin.

But in addressing the church’s 47 bishops, including 10 from the U.S., Canada and Australia,  on Wednesday (Sept. 4), the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, stressed the importance of maintaining the “clear” identity of the Ukrainian Catholic community and expressed sympathy for Ukraine as a whole.

“I express feelings of solidarity to the Ukrainian people in this time of intense tribulation caused by the war that has been ongoing for over five years,” he said.

It was the second time a high-ranking Vatican official has used the word “war” to describe the conflict that followed the 2014 invasion of Crimea by Russian troops. Pope Francis first used the term during a meeting of the representatives of the Ukrainian Catholic Church with the Roman Curia in July.

Despite casualties amounting to at least 13,000 combatants and civilians, according to the United Nations, Russia denies any responsibility for the conflict and refuses to be a party to negotiations to resolve it.

When the Ukrainian Orthodox Church officially declared independence from the Russian church in January, its decision was met favorably by the Catholic community in Ukraine, which still carries the scars of Soviet persecution and genocide.

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Source: Religion News Service