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Church leaders warn against war on Ukraine’s borders

25 January 2022


A damaged building in the village of Vesyoloye, in Donetsk, photographed on Monday. Conflict in the region has already cost an estimated 14,000 lives

A damaged building in the village of Vesyoloye, in Donetsk, photographed on Monday. Conflict in the region has already cost an estimated 14,000 lives

CHURCH leaders in Ukraine have urged support for their country, as a Russian military build-up continued on its borders, prompting Western warnings of an imminent invasion.

Roman and Greek Catholic bishops in Ukraine released a joint message on Monday with their counterparts in neighbouring Poland. “The 20th century’s totalitarian regimes brought tragic experiences of war and political terror to the world, disregarding God’s authority. In the name of false ideologies, entire nations were sentenced to extermination, respect for human dignity destroyed, the essential exercise of political power reduced to mere violence. . .

“Every war is a disaster and can never offer a proper way to resolve international problems. It never has been and it never will be — it fuels new and graver conflicts.”

The appeal was published as the United States and its NATO allies deployed warships and fighter jets, and readied combat troops to bolster Eastern Europe’s defences against an attack on Ukraine by 60 Russian battle groups.

The church appeal said that the Russian occupation of the Donbas and Crimea regions in Ukraine had already violated international law and threatened to “destroy achievements by many generations in building peaceful order and unity in Europe”.

War was an irrational “crime against God and the human person”, it said, made worse by the “terrifying tools of destruction” now available to states, while the current situation demanded “full responsibility from Christians of Eastern and Western traditions” for Europe’s “present and future”.

“The international community should join its efforts and actively help a threatened society,” the Ukrainian and Polish bishops said. “Rulers should also back down immediately from ultimatums which use other countries as bargaining chips.”

Russia began amassing more than 100,000 troops in late October, prompting fears of a three-pronged offensive against Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists declared independent republics at Luhansk and Donetsk in 2014, triggering a war which has left more than 14,000 dead.

US-Russian talks on the crisis were set to continue this week, although NATO leaders have rejected Moscow’s demands for a guarantee that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the alliance, and that no NATO weapons will be deployed near Russian borders.

In an Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis said that he feared Europe’s security was now in jeopardy, and called for a “day of prayer for peace” to be marked internationally on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Swiss-based RC Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe declared its “closeness to Ukraine’s churches” in a weekend statement, and urged the international community to offer support.

The Russian Orthodox Church has made no official comment on the current war threat, although its foreign-relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, defended Russian actions in a recent TV interview.

“It is quite natural that Russia insists on certain security guarantees so that NATO weapons are not deployed directly on its borders or directed at Russian cities,” he told the Russia-24 channel on 16 January. “If mutual understanding can be reached on this point in negotiations, this will give reason for optimism.”

In a message for the Ukrainian Unity Day last Saturday, the new independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine said that the country’s opponents were “doing everything” to divide it “territorially, socially, spiritually and psychologically”, knowing that “divided people are easier to enslave and rule over”.

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in the United States passed a resolution on Tuesday,
which “expresses grave concerns about the escalation of tensions and military buildup along the border of Russia and Ukraine”, and “denounces any invasion which would cause great suffering and harm”.

Pope Francis had called for an international day of prayer to be held, also on Tuesday, “to pray for peace in Ukraine”,  Vatican News reported, 

Read more on this story in our Leader comment and Paul Vallely’s column

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