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Church backing for peace proposals welcomed by Ukrainian leaders

21 June 2024


President Zelensky in Lucerne on Sunday, with global political leaders during a plenary session at the Summit on peace in Ukraine

President Zelensky in Lucerne on Sunday, with global political leaders during a plenary session at the Summit on peace in Ukraine

PRESIDENT Zelensky has thanked the Pope, and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, for backing Ukraine’s peace proposals at a weekend summit in Switzerland, although the Vatican declined to sign a communiqué reaffirming Ukraine’s “independence and “territorial integrity”.

“I informed the Pope about the consequences of Russian aggression and air terror, and about our difficult energy situation,” President Zelensky explained in a social media post. “I also thanked the Holy See for its efforts to bring peace closer, in particular with the return of Ukrainian children abducted by Russia.”

The President published the statement after meeting Pope Francis during a G7 summit in southern Italy, which took place ahead of the Global Peace Summit in Switzerland.

Addressing Patriarch Bartholomew later, the President also expressed gratitude for the Patriarchate’s participation in the summit, and acknowledged the part it played in “promoting and strengthening” Orthodoxy in Ukraine, and developing dialogue with clergy from other countries.

A Ukrainian government statement said that the summit, attended at Burgenstock by heads of government from about 100 countries and international organisations, had been the “largest international event in support of Ukraine and peace”, and would mark “the first step towards a just peace based on the United Nations Charter and basic principles of international law”.

China and dozens of other countries snubbed the two-day event, however, during which Western leaders condemned Russia’s February 2022 invasion, and rejected new demands from President Putin, who was not invited, that Ukraine cede territory in return for a ceasefire.

In his address, Patriarch Bartholomew said that the “power of dialogue” provided a “driving force” for the summit, and that he had created an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the OCU, in January 2019, in response to pastoral needs, firmly believing that “Orthodox Christians in Ukraine deserve their own church voice.”

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, acknowledged Ukraine’s “great efforts to protect against aggression”, and said that the Holy See hoped Kyiv’s diplomatic endeavours would achieve “results that the victims deserve and the whole world hopes for”.

The Vatican, which has faced criticism for its stance during the 28-month war, would, he said, continue facilitating the return of POWs and deported children via “all available channels”, and also remained ready to support “potential mediation initiatives”.

AlamyUkrainian servicemen of the 141st brigade in a trench at the front line in the Zaporizhzhia region on Tuesday

Vatican Radio said that the Holy See had declined to join Patriarch Bartholomew and most Western countries in signing the summit’s final communiqué on Sunday, “in accordance with its nature and status as an observer”, but had nevertheless “expressed support for the summit’s conclusions”.

The brief communiqué backed the “sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine, within their internationally recognised borders”, and demanded security against attack for Ukraine’s food supplies and nuclear plants.

It was published as oil storage tanks near Azov, in southern Russia, were destroyed by Ukrainian drones, and as Russian forces continued attempts to push forward on Ukraine’s eastern and southern front lines, ahead of President Putin’s much-publicised visit this week to allies in North Korea.

In a national address on Tuesday, President Zelensky paid tribute to soldiers and civilians showing “courage and resilience” in his country’s defence, and said that preparations for a follow-up peace summit were now under way.

In a message for the traditional Fathers’ Day on Sunday, the Primate of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that parents had become “the shield, protection, and role model of Christian love” during the war, and urged citizens to offer “support, consolation, and good advice” to bereaved children, rather than leaving them “alone with their grief, losses, and fears”.

In an address on Tuesday at Moscow’s Danilov Monastery, Russia’s Patriarch Kirill called on Protestant leaders to support his Orthodox Church’s defence of “national values”, including heterosexual marriage and the right of parents to educate children “in accordance with their religious beliefs”.

He said that Orthodox and Protestant Christians had found “important common ground for dialogue and co-operation”, and were now “of one mind on important, fateful topics”.

In a report the same day, however, Ukraine’s State Service for Freedom of Conscience said that Protestants had faced “pogroms” since Russia’s occupation of the Crimea and Donbas regions in 2014, along with other non-Russian Christian communities; clergymen and active lay people had been routinely “beaten, handcuffed, intimidated, and forbidden to worship in Ukrainian”.

The report said that Baptist, Pentecostal, and Adventist churches and prayer buildings had been seized by pro-Russian forces, and that at least 40 priests, pastors, monks, and religious teachers had been killed. It called on church leaders abroad to “raise their voices against the injustice committed by the Russian Church”.

Ukraine’s Ukrinform news agency said that a fresh group of chaplains had arrived in Britain last week, to be trained in “providing pastoral care, spiritual support, and moral guidance during military operations and after the war”.

The right of clergy to avoid military service, currently not provided for in Ukraine, was discussed by religious leaders last week at a meeting in Kyiv with ambassadors from G7 countries.

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