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Vatican diplomat castigates Moscow

17 February 2023

Religious leaders accuse Russia of failing to learn lessons of two world wars


Members of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade (Azov Unit) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire a howitzer during a Russian attack, near Bahmut, in the Donetsk region, on 6 February

Members of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade (Azov Unit) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire a howitzer during a Russian attack, near Bahmut, in the Do...

ROMAN and Greek Catholic leaders in Ukraine have backed calls for their nation to be given more sophisticated military equipment to resist a new Russian offensive, as a Vatican diplomat accused Moscow of “violating lessons learned from two world wars”.

“Crimea was occupied on 24 February; so this is a symbolic date for Russians, with everyone saying it should become the new victory day — this is why all of Ukraine now faces an escalation of hostilities,” the President of the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in Ukraine, Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzyck, said.

“We would all like the war to end soon. But, while we know this depends primarily on God, it also largely depends on whether Ukraine will have enough weapons to respond to Russia’s attacks and emerge victorious.”

The Archbishop, based in Lviv, spoke to Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI, after last week’s requests by President Zelensky, visiting London, Paris, and Brussels, for fighter jets and missiles, as well as tanks, to withstand a new onslaught for the first anniversary of Russia’s “special military operation”.

The Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said that humanitarian conditions were deteriorating, and that half of Ukraine’s electricity network was now destroyed. Fifteen million civilians had been forced from their homes, he said, and 80 per cent needed “trauma rehabilitation”.

“I cannot morally endorse this request for arms because I don’t know all the details — but we cannot defend ourselves without arms,” he told an online seminar of the German-based charity Aid to the Church in Need International. “It may sound strange that religious leaders favour the military support Ukraine is looking for, but, to survive, we have to defend ourselves. If someone knows how we can stop Russian troops without arms, let them please tell us the secret.”

The appeals were made as savage fighting continued around the eastern towns of Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Kreminna, and as NATO officials warned that Ukraine could soon run short of air-defence and artillery supplies, despite a well-prepared defence and mounting Russian losses.

The Vatican Nuncio in Vienna, Cardinal Pedro López Quintana, said that Russia’s “brutal aggression” a year ago had “shattered the European security order”. He accused President Putin of “breaking international law, disregarding borders, and plundering land”.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine is also an attack on all lessons the world has learned from two world wars,” he told a gathering of diplomats in the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, on Tuesday. “Until a just peace is achieved that does not reward land-grabbing, or leave the Ukrainian people at the mercy and violence of occupiers, it remains a human demand to stand by those who are attacked, threatened, and oppressed.”

Pressure is growing on Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, the UOC, to separate formally from Russia in the run-up to the invasion anniversary, which is to be marked by prayer services around Europe.

A presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada parliament, in Kyiv, Fedir Venislavskyi, told the RBC-Ukraine news agency on Tuesday that a government-backed law to ban religious communities affiliated to “centres of influence” and “governing centres” in “a state carrying out armed aggression against Ukraine” was likely to be passed “in the near future”. It had gained support from more than half the country’s citizens in a December survey.

Arrests continued of UOC clergy and lay staffers suspected of supporting the Russian invasion, as more parishes transferred loyalty to the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, or OCU.

Speaking on Monday, the OCU Metropolitan Mykhail (Zinkevych) of Lutsk & Volynia praised parliamentarians for resisting “propaganda about the Russian world by agents in cassocks’’. Those who “use the high status of clergyman in covert work for the enemy should be condemned according to the strictness of law”.

The Rector of the UOC-run Theological Academy, in Kyiv, Archbishop Sylvester (Stoychev) of Belgorod, said, however, that the law risked “systematically violating” the rights of UOC members. He urged Ukrainian officials not to involve themselves “with issues around the unification of Churches and the canonicity or non-canonicity of denominations”.

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