On January 24-26, 2023, at the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations initiative, its official delegation visited the Vatican. The delegation consisted of:
- Marcos Hovhannisyan, Bishop of the Ukrainian Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Church, head of the UCCRO delegation;
- Epiphaniy, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Ukraine;
- Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Supreme Kyiv-Halytskyi Archbishop;
- Mieczysław Mokrzycki, Archbishop Metropolitan of Lviv of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine, acting Head of the Conference of the Roman Catholic episcopate of Ukraine;
- Valerii Antonyukk, Chairman of the All-Ukrainian Union of the Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists;
- Yaakov Dov Bleich, President of the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine;
- Akhmed Tamim - Head of the Religious Administration of Ukrainian Muslims, Supreme Mufti of Ukraine;
as well as authorized representatives of the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church, the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Evangelical Church, the Ukrainian Bible Society, and the Institute for Religious Freedom.
The visit was a continuation of the Council's meetings with world religious figures during their visits to Ukraine and international trips of the UCCRO: with Pope John Paul II (2001), Secretary of State of Vatican City Pietro Parolin (2016), Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau (2019), Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (2021), Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (2022).
The main event of the visit of Ukrainian religious figures to the Vatican was the meeting of the UCCRO delegation with Pope Francis.
During the conversation, the heads and representatives of Churches and religious organizations of Ukraine testified on the importance of uniting the efforts of religious figures of Ukraine and the world in countering Russian aggression against Ukraine to achieve the victory of truth and establish a just peace. The delegation members noted the importance of the prayerful and moral support the Ukrainian people receive from the Holy Father and the Apostolic capital. They also thanked them for the humanitarian assistance that continues to arrive.
Among many issues that were raised during the communication, it is worth mentioning the problems of returning Ukrainian citizens deported by the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation, in particular children, as well as the possibility of mediation and assistance in the release and return of Ukrainian prisoners of war and unlawful prisoners, ensuring their rights under international humanitarian norms.
"Thank you for this unity of yours. It means a lot to me. It's like kids in a family: where one is there, and the other one is somewhere else, but when mom is sick, everyone gets together.", Father Francis said, emphasizing that in this case, we are not talking about Jewish, Islamic, Christian, Orthodox or Catholic Ukraine, but about “mother Ukraine,” for which everyone unites together. "This is an example in the face of tremendous superficiality that we see in our culture today.", – the Holy Father said.
To commemorate the meeting, representatives of the council presented Pope Francis with a painting depicting peaceful Ukraine, painted by Ukrainian children, and a small-scale copy of the sculpture of Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Kyiv, installed in the park "Saint Volodymyr Hill" in the capital of Ukraine.
The UCCRO delegation also met with Secretary of State of Vatican City Pietro Parolin and the Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher. During the meeting, they discussed the challenges facing Ukraine and the international community in connection with the ongoing Russian aggression against our state and the temporary occupation of its territory, as well as possible further steps to achieve lasting peace.
In his speech, Cardinal Parolin noted: "War is an insult to God. I assure you that every morning when we gather in the Secretariate, we pray for Ukraine and think about how we can help Ukraine and what we can do to bring a just peace to Ukraine."
The Council delegation also had fruitful meetings with the prefect of the Dicastery promoting Christian unity Cardinal Kurt Koch, the prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Miguel Ayuso, the prefect of the Dicastery for Communication Paolo Ruffini, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti.
During the conversation, members of the delegation spoke about the work of the UCCRO and suggested stepping up cooperation with Vatican institutions in relevant areas. On the Ukrainian side, it was emphasized that the council is an example of successful and fruitful collaboration between representatives of the primary religious communities of Ukraine. Thanks to more than 25 years of experience working in a uniquely broad format, the Council has made significant achievements in building internal dialogue in cooperation with the state and international partners.
On the occasion of the end of the week of prayers for Christian unity, members of the delegation attended a prayer that Pope Francis performed in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.
In addition, members of the UCCRO delegation visited Santa Sofia a Via Boccea in Rome, the center of the UGCC, and the Baby Jesus Paediatric Hospital, where children from Ukraine are being treated. They also met with the Ambassador of Ukraine to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, and held a press conference for the media.
The participants of the visit highly value the meetings held, expressing hope that the communication and exchange of views will contribute to Ukraine and the world in achieving a lasting just peace. The visit to the Apostolic capital and the high-level meetings also demonstrate the expansion of the potential for multilateral interreligious and interfaith cooperation, in which Ukrainian churches and religious organizations will continue to participate actively.
The visit took place at the suggestion of the UCCRO in cooperation and with the support of the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas.
Photo by Andrii Sydor