Ukrainian patriarch visits Canberra, pays tribute to MH17 dead
The leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has paid tribute to the victims of flight MH17 and expressed his condolences to the families of the Australian casualties during a historic visit to Canberra, informs ACT news.
His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuck landed in the ACT on Wednesday as part of a two-week tour of Australia.
He told Fairfax the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in July was a tragedy that had exposed the magnitude of the conflict raging in the Ukraine.
"It made what had been a local conflict an international one," he said. "All Christians in Ukraine would regard the  people who died as guardian angels now."
Canberra mother of two Lilian Derden (50) was one of the 27 Australians killed.
The Patriarch said that as word of the tragedy had spread there had been spontaneous expressions of grief and sorrow at churches across the country, and that Prime Minister Tony Abbott's strong stance on calling Russia to account for its involvement in the attack had strengthened ties between Australia and Ukraine.
"When I applied for my visa to come to Australia I had to go through the embassy in Moscow," he said. "I understand that is about to change and that Australia will soon have an embassy in Kiev."
A former bishop to the Ukrainian Catholics in Argentina, the Patriarch had Pope Francis, then a senior South American cleric, as his mentor.
"I was 38, at that time the youngest Catholic bishop in the world," he said.
Pope Francis, who worked in the same office, was his immediate superior.
"He told me what it meant to be a bishop; that it went beyond being a pastor to your own and that you had to take the Church out into the wider world. He also said that it was not the job of a bishop to be a prince; that a bishop should always be the servant of his people."
This week's visit to the ACT, to culminate with the consecration of the relics of several Ukrainian saints at the Church of St Volodymyr in Lyneham, which is being declared a place of pilgrimage on Thursday night, is a red-letter event for the ACT's small but strongly committed congregation.
"I feel very blessed [to have him here]," Sarah Lysewycz said during the Patriarch's visit to St Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Queanbeyan on Wednesday.
"My grandmother is a founder of this church and she is still alive. To see my children growing up in the Ukrainian beliefs and traditions means so much to her."