In a letter to the Pope, Greek Catholics of Transcarpathia call the separate status of their Eparchy "utter anachronism"

07 March, 17:20
Catholics
Uzhgorod Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - фото 1
Uzhgorod Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
A letter from the faithful of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo to Pope Francis has been made public online, in which they express "concern about the current latent crisis state of affairs" in the Eparchy. They also want a Ukrainian Bishop to be appointed.

The letter reads: "Anxiety and pain caused by the unnatural situation when the body of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine still remains divided, becoming an obstacle to the acquisition of fraternal unity and fruitful cooperation between all pastors and all the faithful of our country."

The other day a response letter of the Head of the UGCC, who received a copy of the letter to the Pope, was made public.

I want this letter was sent on February 1, 2021, but appeared online only now. We are bringing it to your notice in full in the original version.

LETTER OF APPEAL OF THE GREEK CATHOLIC FAITHFUL OF THE TRANSCARPATHIAN EPARCHY OF MUKACHEVO

His Holiness Francis I

City of Vatican

YOUR HOLINESS!

We were urged to refer to Your Holiness by our concern about the current latent crisis, as we believe, of the state of affairs in the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo. Since the conflict within the Eparchy, which was not fully resolved, and therefore still a long-standing one, makes itself felt up to date, as the minor part of the clergy eventually developed the ability to dictate their own will to the majority of clergy and parishioners, so sometimes avoiding the hardships and duty of hard work of reconciliation and true spiritual and religious service. I would like to convey to Your Eminence our concern and pain about the unnatural situation when the body of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine still remains divided, preventing the acquisition of fraternal unity and fruitful cooperation between all pastors and all the faithful of our country.

For a better understanding of the main essence of our appeal, we consider it necessary to recall a certain chronology of events and the logic of decisions made that preceded the current situation in the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo. They somehow relate to its current special official status "sui juris", that is, "of its own right", thanks to which the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, despite its complete canonical and ceremonial unity, functions independently of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, administratively reporting not to the Supreme Archbishop of the UGCC, but directly to the Holy Capital. In our opinion, in the current circumstances, this existing status has long become a complete anachronism. Initially, it was due to the circumstances and at that time, an acceptable way to solve the crisis problems of the formation of the restored Church, and with it the formation of the Ukrainian state itself, and has long ceased to be relevant in our country.

Following its first official recognition at the beginning of the XVIII century, the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo has always been under the full jurisdiction of the Hungarian Roman Catholic Archbishops of Ostrihom. It was not earlier than September 2, 1937, that with the Papal Bulla "Ad ecclesiastici regiminis incrementum", His Holiness Pius XI granted the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo the status of "sui juris", which guaranteed the preservation of the ritual and national and cultural identity of Transcarpathian Greek Catholics in a foreign state (Czechoslovak Republic). A year and a half later, in March 1939, immediately after the capture of the territory of Carpathian Ukraine by Hungarian troops, this independent status was abolished, and the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo was again within the full jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Ostrihom.

As the Greek Catholic Church in the USSR (1989) was legalized, Ivan Semediy, an Ordinary of the Eparchy, appointed by the Apostolic Capital to lead the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo and his assistant Iosif Holovach pursued the independence of the Eparchy entrusted to them from the UGCC in all possible, and sometimes not always truthful ways. Unfortunately, they have repeatedly tried to mislead the Apostolic See, resorted to distortions and overt fraud. Thus, in a letter to His Holiness Ecumenical Bishop John Paul II dated July 1, 1990, Their Excellences stated the following: "The bishops of Ukraine, who belong to the Archeparchy of Lviv, are trying to convince us in our communication, having resorted to pressure more than once. Our population is not Ukrainian, the faithful are mostly Rusyns, but there are numerous groups of Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks." In the same letter, they also claimed that "Our Church is not for Ukrainians, but for Rusyns, it has been and remains a Church of its own right, that is, it independently reports to the Holy See." They also feared that "the unification of our Church with the Ukrainian hierarchy would arouse the resistance of our people, which could lead to a tragic consequence." It should be noted that such an undisguised position of the mentioned bishops was then in full consonance with the framed-up inventions of the then communist leadership of the Transcarpathian region and with extensive bogus stories from the Soviet special services, which on the eve of the collapse of the USSR in every possible way frightened transcarpathians, creating an absolutely false image of "cruel Galician murderers", threatening the very life of "good Rusyns" so ungodly created hatred for everything Ukrainian in the then Soviet Ukraine, aroused among believers a non-Christian attitude towards brothers in communion on the other side of the Carpathians. However, for example, a lengthy sociological survey in 1994 recorded the presence in Transcarpathia of as many as 94 people who considered themselves to be "Rusyns". And at the All-Ukrainian Population Census of 2001, as many as 0.8% of Transcarpathian residents declared their belonging to Rusyns. Instead, about 80% of residents considered and still consider themselves ethnic Ukrainians.

With the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state, a spontaneous large-scale movement of believers and priests emerged within the Transcarpathian Eparchy of Mukachevo, who sought full unity of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine with the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo. This movement resulted in the Congress of Greek Catholics of Transcarpathia held on July 31, 1992, where this sincere desire for unity with the UGCE was recorded democratically and in a protocol-verified manner. The Congress was preceded by an open general plebiscite on this issue – 54 religious communities out of 77 that time unequivocally supported the mentioned idea of unity. Another mass survey was conducted again in 1997, again according to all the proper rules: more than 80% of the Greek Catholic believers and priests surveyed said "Yes". The minutes of those meetings and signed appeals of believers who wanted unity with all Ukrainian Greek Catholics were handed over to the Supreme Archbishop Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in Lviv.

This period of formation, as is known from many sources, was accompanied by fierce pressure from outside and resistance from individuals in the leadership of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo and its inner circle. Perhaps the greatest oppression was experienced by then Auxiliary Bishop Ivan Margitych, who adhered to a clear line to achieve the unity of all Greek Catholics in Ukraine. In May 1992, the local authorities, together with some leaders of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, opposed bishop Ivan Margitych – with direct obstacles and transport persecution, so that he would not get to the meeting of the seventh Synod of Bishops of the UGCC in Lviv. It should be noted that a reasonable solution to an unpleasant and unacceptable situation then and in the future was constantly hindered by an influential lobby in the holy capital – mainly Hungarian and Slovak Church officials.

On February 7, 1993, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, shortly after reviewing the state of affairs in the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo and based on the report of Apostolic Visitor Francesco Colosuano, in a letter to the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, Antonio Franco, made the following recommendation: "Bishop Iosyf Holovach should be nominated as a Sinkel for believers of Rusyn origin, Bishop Ivan Margitych as a Sinkel for believers of Ukrainian origin". The day before, it was decided to grant the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo the temporary status of "sui juris". At the same time, "the Apostolic See, however, also takes into account the fact that Transcarpathia is part of the territory of independent Ukraine..., so it wants the "assembly of Bishops" of the whole Ukraine to be held as soon as possible, so that it will be obvious to everyone that the Greek Catholic Church in Galicia, the Greek Catholic Church in Transcarpathia and the Roman Catholic Church - all together create a Catholic Church in Ukraine to offer spiritual and religious services to all the faithful who live on the territory of Ukraine, and to promote unity and cooperation between all pastors and all believers of Ukraine". It is clear that the very fact of granting the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo the temporary status of "sui juris" can also be interpreted as a certain act aimed at reconciliation in the then difficult situation of the formation of the Ukrainian state, when certain world political structures did not yet have full confidence in the continued existence of Ukraine within its established territorial borders. There were also external factors that made significant efforts to "liberate" historical Transcarpathia from the Ukrainian ethnocultural space. And yet, it is difficult not to notice the anachronism of the situation with even the temporary (so far) preservation of the independent status of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo from the UGCC on the territory of Ukraine, which also have a single natural root – St. Volodymyr's baptism, since such a division completely contradicts the established position of the Holy See to always determine the territorial borders of individual churches or eparchies, taking into account the existing and recognized by the international community borders of those states on the territory of which this or that local Church operates.

Taking into account the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful of Transcarpathia, the Apostolic Nunciature in Ukraine made efforts to correct this carryover. Already st that point, a compromise solution was proposed, which was supposed to reduce the tension inside the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo. Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Franco, who at that time was perfectly familiar with the situation in the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, called a meeting in Transcarpathia on April 5, 1994, where he published a draft for setting up a Metropolia with a special status in front of three bishops and all invited priests.

On July 19, 1994, a letter was sent to His Eminence Cardinal Aquilla Silvestrini, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, signed by Bishop Ivan Margitych and more than thirty priests of the Eparchy, who expressed their "absolute consent with the project on ecclesiastical unity." This letter, as well as several subsequent written appeals signed by priests and believers, reported on an unheard-of number of fake messages and "news" distributed in Transcarpathia, incessantly inciting the faithful against church unity and the establishment of a close link between the future new metropolis and the UGCC. They talked about disinformation and distortions about the real state of affairs in Transcarpathia and within the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, which came from individuals to the Holy See. It was said that this "false information did not avoid His Holiness John Paul II, thus unreasonably causing his anxiety and pain."

In a letter to Bishop Ivan Semediy dated August 31, 1995, Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Franco detailed information about the "decree on the formation of the Metropolia of Uzhgorod (or Mukachevo) as part of the Supreme Archbishopric Church" prepared by the Holy See, which had already been prepared by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches: "Special rules concerning the Greek Catholic Church of Transcarpathia make part of the general prescription regarding the Catholic Church of the Byzantine tradition in Ukraine and which recognizes the jurisdiction of the Supreme Archbishop and Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church over all Greek Catholic Churches communities of this church that exist on the territory of Ukraine."

The Holy See, having studied this issue carefully, is ready to recognize the jurisdiction of the Supreme Archbishop of Lviv over the entire territory of Ukraine. To emphasize its unwillingness to raise the national issue, the Holy See speaks about the unity of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. It is attributed that the Metropolitan and bishops of the newly created province will be members of the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church." They also planned to "oblige the Metropolitan and bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Uzhgorod (Mukachevo) to participate in the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church."

Thus, even then in 1995, the Holy Capital clearly expressed its readiness to recognize the undivided jurisdiction of the head of the UGCC over the entire territory of Ukraine and thus put an end to all attempts to involve itself in various political games around the existence of two local Greek Catholic Churches in Ukraine.

We can only guess at the level of intervention mainly by third-party forces, which hastened to prevent the implementation of a completely ready-made and practically agreed project. The Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo itself wanted to make almost the main springboard of the massive offensive of the so-called political neo-Russians against the unity of the Ukrainian ethnocultural space. From a certain point on, priests of Ukrainian orientation began to be dismissed from the chapter of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, and at Theodore Romji Uzhgorod Theological Academy, the same fate befell theologians with similar views. Hostility among the leadership of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo was also expressed towards the Ukrainian language. Thus, there was a practice that priests were sent to certain parishes only if they refused to conduct divine services in the Ukrainian language. It is significant that a noticeable aggravation caused by these problems occurred at the turn of 2013-14, that is, at the very beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

For example, on January 12, 2013, in his sermon at the Liturgy at the Uzhgorod Cathedral of the Holy Cross and the Church of Elevation of the Cross during the rite of consecration of Bishop nil Ruschak, Bishop Vasiil Tsiril, then-Secretary of the congregation of Eastern Churches, stubbornly reiterated the need for independent status of the Mukachevo Greek Catholic Eparchy: "being by identity the son of this land and this special Church of "its own right", which is the Greek Catholic Church of the Mukachevo Eparchy, you are your own person you will represent its ecclesiastical peculiarity and dignity." The content of that sermon expressed a complete silence of the Ukrainian identity among the majority of Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo believers.

Special attention should also be paid to the fact of an unsuccessful attempt to set up the Ruthenian Metropolia of Mukachevo at the end of 2016 based on the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo – such a plan failed at the last moment.

Nevertheless, we firmly believe that since the wishes and moods of the Transcarpathian Greek Catholic clergy and faithful have changed markedly over the past few years, this should certainly encourage the leadership of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo to change. Here we will allow ourselves to quote and agree with the words of our fellow countryman, Greek Catholic father-basilyanin and Ukrainian poet Sevastian Sabol: "the Transcarpathian clergy face a dilemma: either to become outspoken in front of their Ukrainian people, honoring their language and national consciousness or to disappear themselves, leaving the people entrusted to us by God to be devoured by the enemies of the Church."

Transcarpathian Greek Catholics remember with great love and good memory the faithful servant of the church and people, Bishop of Christ, Bishop Ivan Margitych. And now, when we pray for the repose of his soul, we also have in our hearts the words that we have often heard from his lips – about the unity, unity of the Church of Christ in Ukraine, unity between Greek Catholics in Ukraine.

Therefore, we ask the Holy See to take into account the fact that the absolute majority of Greek Catholics of the Mukachevo Eparchy are representatives of the titular nation, Ukrainians. Therefore, when appointing a bishop to the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, this circumstance should certainly be kept in mind, as well as the fact that the main Christian canons for preserving Church unity fully coincide with Ukrainian national interests – the closest integration of Ukrainians from different lands while preserving their regional cultural identity.

Therefore, placing ourselves in the hands of God's Providence and the intercession of our Patroness, we live with the hope that the Apostolic See will take into account our requests and aspirations and put into effect long-overdue decisions-for the sake of appeasement and affirmation of the much-desired fraternal unity of the faithful Greek Catholics of Transcarpathia and all of Ukraine, who are one faith, one rite, one language and citizenship.

February 1, AD 2021

A. Martynenko V. Kryshenik, I. Rebryk, T. Lelekach, M. Wager and dozens of other signatures

Copies of the letter were also sent to the Nunciature and His Beatitude Sviatoslav