UGCC Synod Bishops met with Pope Francis at the Vatican
According to the Secretariat of the Head of the UGCC in Rome, during this candid conversation, the UGCC bishops shared the pain, suffering, and certain disappointments of the Ukrainian people.
At the initiative of Pope Francis, the meeting took place an hour earlier to allow for a more extended conversation with the Ukrainian bishops.
His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the Head of the UGCC, described the meeting as a moment of mutual listening and an opportunity for open and sincere dialogue.
The UGCC bishops requested Pope Francis to begin the meeting with a joint prayer for a just peace in Ukraine and for all those currently losing their lives at the hands of the Russian aggressor. Pope Francis expressed gratitude for this initiative and joined the Ukrainian bishops in praying the "Our Father" for Ukraine and its long-suffering people.
In their conversation with Pope Francis, the UGCC bishops pointed out that certain statements and gestures from the Holy See have been painful and challenging for the Ukrainian people, who are shedding blood in their struggle for dignity and independence. They explained that misunderstandings that have arisen between Ukraine and the Vatican since the beginning of the full-scale war are exploited by Russian propaganda to justify and support the deadly ideology of the "Russian world." Therefore, the faithful of their Church are sensitive to every word from His Holiness as a universal voice of truth and justice.
Acknowledging the inconsistency of his own words and comparisons addressed to Russian youth, Pope Francis clarified, "When I spoke with journalists upon returning from Mongolia, I mentioned that the real pain lies in the cultural heritage of a people undergoing 'distillation' and manipulation by a certain state authority, turning it into an ideology that destroys and kills. A great tragedy occurs when such an ideology infiltrates the Church and substitutes itself for Christ's Gospel."
Pope Francis also affirmed that "a particular source of pain for the Ukrainian people is their uncertainty about where the Pope stands. I want to assure you of my solidarity and my constant prayerful closeness. I stand with the Ukrainian people." As a special gesture and symbol of his solidarity with the Ukrainian people, Pope Francis presented an icon of the Mother of God, which he had received from His Beatitude Sviatoslav when he was a young bishop in Argentina. "I pray before this icon every day for Ukraine."
The bishops also conveyed their gratitude to Pope Francis for his unwavering support of Ukraine on the international stage, his humanitarian efforts, personal initiatives to secure the release of prisoners, support for the peace plan proposed by Ukrainian authorities, and more. They mentioned that Ukrainian youth were deeply moved by His Holiness's humility in seeking forgiveness for not having done more to stop the war in Ukraine.
The Synodal Fathers requested Pope Francis to continue his efforts to free prisoners of war, specifically mentioning the Redemptorist priests, Father Ivan Levytskyi and Father Bohdan Heletu, who remain in Russian captivity.
At the conclusion of the audience, on behalf of the UGCC Synod of Bishops, His Beatitude Sviatoslav presented Pope Francis with personal items belonging to the imprisoned Redemptorist priests: a mission cross, a prayer book, and a prayer rope. "These items, Your Holiness, bear witness to the suffering of our Church alongside its people amid the calamity of war caused by Russian aggression. As an invaluable treasure, we entrust them to your hands in the hope that a just peace will soon come to Ukraine."
The Head of the UGCC also gifted Pope Francis with an icon of Jesus Christ rescued from a burned church in the village of Chervone in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.