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Pope Francis travels to northern Italy to share a special meal with his cousins

Pope Francis has lunch with his second cousin Carla Rabezzana at her home in Portacomaro, Italy on Nov. 19, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 19, 2022 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis traveled to northern Italy on Saturday to celebrate the 90th birthday of his second cousin Carla Rabezzana with his Italian relatives.

The 85-year-old pope arrived by helicopter in the Italian province of Asti, 30 miles east of Turin, just before noon on Nov. 19.

The pope made a brief stop to pray at a local church before greeting Rabezzana at her home in the town of Portacomaro, where they were joined by five other relatives and their families to share a home-cooked lunch with local delicacies from the Piedmont region.

Rabezzana, who turned 90 on Nov. 8, told Vatican News ahead of the visit that she was looking forward to embracing her cousin (the pope) because they had not seen each other for three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said: “And then we’ll have a chat, as we do at least once a month on the phone with relatives who love each other. I’ll ask him about his knee, which is hurting him now. He talks to me about it when we talk on the phone.”

“For Saturday’s lunch, the other cousins and I will prepare a roast and lots of vegetables — he eats a lot of them, especially now — and then bunet, the cocoa-based pudding typical of Piedmontese cuisine,” Rabezzana said.

“However, we will have the birthday cake on Sunday at lunch with the bishop after Mass,” she added.

Pope Francis is scheduled to spend the night in Asti, where he will offer a public Mass for the Solemnity of Christ the King on Sunday in the Asti Cathedral.

The weekend visit brings the pope back to the Italian diocese where his father, Mario Josè Bergoglio, lived before emigrating from Italy to Argentina in 1929. The pope’s maternal grandparents also immigrated to Argentina from northern Italy.

Pope Francis, who was born in Buenos Aires in 1936, has maintained contact with relatives in Asti and Turin since his election as pope. During a visit to Turin in 2015, the pope had lunch with six of his cousins and their families.

The pope was profoundly influenced by his paternal grandmother Rosa Margherita Vassallo, who was very religious. He has mentioned her in many homilies and quoted an Italian poem, “Rassa nostrana” by Nino Costa, which he said Rosa taught him in the local Piedmontese dialect.

In her spiritual testament, Rosa wrote: “May my grandsons, whom I gave the best of my heart, have a long and happy life. If one day pain, sickness, or loss of a dear one will fill them with affliction, may they always remember that a breath in front of the Tabernacle, where the greatest and important martyr is secured, and a glance to Mary at the foot of the cross, can leave a drop of balsam on the deepest and most painful wounds.”

Before departing for northern Italy, the pope met on Saturday morning with Mar Awa III, the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, as well as a delegation of the Padua-based nongovernmental organization Doctors with Africa at the Vatican.

“I wanted to share lunch with you, to conclude well, as we should, but I have to leave at 10:30. Please excuse me,” the pope told Mar Awa III.

He joked: “I would not want it to be said that this pope is a bit stingy and does not invite us to lunch! I would love to share the table, but there will be other opportunities.”

‘We lift our prayers to God for peace in Ukraine’: Vatican Mass marks Ukraine-Holy See diplomatic relationship

Cardinal Pietro Parolin celebrating Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 18, 2022 / 04:26 am (CNA).

Cardinal Pietro Parolin offered Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

The Vatican secretary of state said in his homily on Nov. 17 that “there is no situation so compromised that the Spirit of God cannot resurrect.”

“This evening’s prayer for peace, which unites all our hearts, is rooted in this trust. We are witnessing the horror of a war which after so many months continues to sow destruction and death. We also see the failure of attempts to restore peace or find solutions that lead to it, while blood and tears continue to flow, in the increasingly painful grip of cold and darkness,” he said.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin celebrating Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Cardinal Pietro Parolin celebrating Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

“Nonetheless, we raise our prayers to God for peace in Ukraine and in every country suffering from war, so that faith in his promises of life may not be lacking and that they will soon find fulfillment. In spite of failing human wills and efforts, let us ask God to pour out his Spirit on our humanity longing for peace, to be freed from the scourge of armed strife.”

The Mass marked the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Ukraine. 

Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope John Paul II founded the Apostolic Nunciature in Kyiv and established diplomatic relations with Ukraine on Feb. 8, 1992, following the fall of the Soviet Union. 

The diplomatic relationship between Ukraine and the Holy See dates back more than 100 years. Count Mykhailo Tyshkevych, the first Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican, arrived in Rome in 1919 and presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XV. This relationship was interrupted for 71 years by the establishment of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922.

Ambassador Andrii Yurash, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, addressed the congregation at the end of the Mass.

Ukraine's ambassador Andrii Yurash. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Ukraine's ambassador Andrii Yurash. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Yurash, who arrived in Rome after Russia invaded Ukraine, said that in the war Ukraine is defending “not only its independence and identity from Russian aggressors, but also the principles on which the entire free democratic world is built.”

“The Holy See is a symbol of this free world. That is why it is so important for Ukraine that Ukraine and the Apostolic Capital together stand on the side of the Truth, building and affirming the victory of this truth and God’s justice,” the Ukrainian ambassador added.

Many of the religious sisters, priests, and ambassadors accredited to the Holy See who packed into the Marian basilica for the Mass wore ribbons with the colors of the Ukrainian flag that were distributed at the door of the basilica. 

Mass for peace in Ukraine at the Roman basilica of Saint Mary Major, Nov. 17, 2022. Courtney Mares / CNA
Mass for peace in Ukraine at the Roman basilica of Saint Mary Major, Nov. 17, 2022. Courtney Mares / CNA

Dmytro Morozov, the artistic director of the Kharkiv Opera, played the organ for the Mass, which included traditional Ukrainian chant and hymns.

The prayers of the faithful included a prayer in Ukrainian: “O God who is love, the author of justice and peace, protect from all aggression the people who call upon you so that, trusting in your defense, they will not fear the weapons of any enemy.”

Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Mass for peace in Ukraine on Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Nov. 17, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis was not present at the Mass, but before the Mass the pope met privately with Ukrainian Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv and Bishop Jan Sobiło, an auxiliary bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia in Ukraine.

In an interview published on Nov. 18, Pope Francis said that the Holy See is “willing to do everything possible to mediate and put an end to the conflict” in Ukraine.

“But everyone must commit to demilitarizing hearts, starting with their own, and then defusing, disarming violence. We must all be pacifists. Wanting peace, not just a truce that may only serve to rearm. Real peace, which is the fruit of dialogue,” the pope told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

German bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican amid concern over Synodal Way

Cardinal Reinhard Marx and fellow bishops from Germany meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022 / Vatican Media

CNA Newsroom, Nov 17, 2022 / 07:52 am (CNA).

Pope Francis received the German bishops at the Vatican on Thursday.

The audience with Pope Francis lasted about two hours, the German Bishops’ Conference said in a statement published after the encounter, describing the meeting as an “open round of talks” in which “the bishops were able to raise their questions and issues, and the pope answered them individually.”

The statement briefly mentioned that “aspects of the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany, and the worldwide synodal process also came up in the conversation.” 

As CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported, the press release also said that the pontiff and the bishops exchanged “reflections on pastoral care in changed times,” “the self-understanding of the priestly and episcopal ministry, the commitment of laypeople in the Church, as well as the challenge of how evangelization can succeed in the context of a secular world.”

“In addition, the bishops were able to report on their experiences in the dioceses,” the statement continued. 

“The question of political responsibility, social cohesion, and a perspective for peace in the face of global and regional conflicts shaped the meeting.”

Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media

Sixty-three German bishops are in Rome this week for their ad limina visit, which concludes Nov. 18. Every diocesan bishop in the world must make an “ad limina apostolorum” papal visit to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese.

On Friday, the German bishops will meet with the heads of several Vatican dicasteries to discuss the Synodal Way.

According to news agency KNA, the bishops also discussed the controversial process in a meeting with Cardinal Mario Grech, who is responsible for the Synod on Synodality, on Wednesday.

In an interview published on his diocese’s website ahead of the visit, the head of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said he believed it was “no coincidence that we bishops are now invited to Rome.”

The German bishop said there was “a lot of lack of understanding about our process in Rome.” 

“That’s why I’m very grateful that we really have a lot of time to talk about this together. This is a real opportunity.”

An initiative of German Catholics critical of the Synodal Way this week called on Pope Francis to intervene in the process, CNA Deutsch reported

“Intervene courageously!” the organizers of the “New Beginning” (Neuer Anfang) said. “Stop the pseudo-democratic restructuring of the Church! Defend the common faith! And defend the weak against the violence of the apparatus.”

At the same time, supporters of the controversial process said they expected from the Vatican “finally a clear sign of appreciation of the German Synodal Way,” according to CNA Deutsch.

The Synodal Way — Synodaler Weg in German, sometimes translated as Synodal Path — is a controversial process with the declared aim of debating and passing resolutions about four topics: the way power is exercised in the Church, the priesthood, the role of women, and sexual morality.

Writing about the process, Pope Francis in 2019 warned of disunity in a letter to German Catholics

More recently, in early November, Pope Francis spoke about making sure to “not lose the people’s sense of faith.” 

It was true, he said, that “Germany has a great Protestant church. I don’t want another one that is not as good as this one. I want Catholics to be fraternally united with the Protestant Church.”

Gender theory confusion shows need for papal encyclical, Dutch cardinal says

Cardinal Willem Eijk / Bohumil Petrik/CNA

Denver, Colo., Nov 16, 2022 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Extreme forms of gender theory have become so influential that a papal encyclical should address the topic, Dutch Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht has said, noting Pope Francis’ previous teachings on the topic.

“I asked whether it wouldn’t be good if the pope issued an encyclical on gender theory,” he said during a press conference last week, the Dutch daily Nederlands Dagblad reported.

“Gender theory is being pushed in all kinds of organizations and we as a Church have not said much about it,” said Eijk, who has authored a new book on marriage and sexuality.

The cardinal has previously called for an encyclical or other Vatican document on the subject of gender theory.

Gender theory in its radical forms presents gender as a social construct entirely separate from human biology. Its influence in academic circles has widened to the broader culture in many countries. Among other trends, it has helped provide an intellectual basis for the promotion of transgender beliefs and sex-change procedures as well as policies and laws that implement them.

“The gender roles of men and women can change culturally,” the cardinal said, adding that there also is “an essential relationship between biological sex and gender role.”

Eijk made the request for an encyclical through Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who heads the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. The request came as the Dutch bishops were visiting the Vatican ahead of their ad limina visit with Pope Francis last week.

According to one account, the proposal’s fate is uncertain. Bishop Johannes Hendriks of Haarlem-Amsterdam said on his blog that during the meeting with Farrell the cardinal did not want to go into “matters concerning medical ethics and sexuality” and did not respond to the cardinal’s request.

Eijk previously explained his suggestion in a March 2017 interview with CNA’s Italian-language sister news agency ACI Stampa. He said he did not necessarily see an encyclical as the only way to address the issue. He suggested a document of another kind could be useful, such as an instruction from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“However, it is important that it is an authoritative document of the Church on this theory,” he said. “Because we see that international organizations put a lot of pressure on nations to introduce this theory, especially in the world of education.”

“People need it, because they hear about gender theory in the media, in politics, in schools, everywhere. Above all, the Church is called to give her point of view,” the cardinal told ACI Stampa. People need to understand why the Church does not accept gender theory, he added.

“Gender is a sexual-social role of women and men. These roles are considered to be somewhat ‘changeable’ and dependent on culture and history,” he said. “We can discuss the change in the social role of men and women. The point, however, is that the theory of gender implies that the role of man and woman is completely detached from biological sex. This is incompatible with the vision of man presented by the Church, with Sacred Scripture at the basis of doctrine.”

According to Eijk, gender theory is based on “a dualist anthropology” that sees the human person as limited to consciousness and centered in “the brain of rational activities, autonomous choices, and typically human social capacity.” This view of humanity is pervasive and influences “almost all fields of thought, including medical ethics.” It “changes the way we feel and perceive ourselves.”

“This is why it is very urgent to present the true vision of man in this world, otherwise we will lose our way,” he said.

The Church’s vision, he said, can be understood “based on pure reason,” as well as based on Sacred Scripture. The human body belongs to the human person in “an essential way.”

“We have a material dimension and a spiritual dimension, and both are essential to us as human beings,” Eijk explained.

Contrary views try to depict the body as “something extrinsic to the human person and subsequently as a pure means, which has value according to how it is attributed to it by the human person.” This contemporary view gives the human being “the right to dispose of the body in a considerable way” and helps justify assisted suicide, abortion, and other immoral practices.

The cardinal noted the pope’s previous efforts to address gender theory, but he said that these do not address the topic as a central theme.

In the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, on God’s creation and care for the environment, Pope Francis encouraged the recognition of the body in its femininity or masculinity and recognizing its “direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.”

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology,” the pope said.

In Amoris laetitia, a 2016 postsynodal apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis wrote that masculinity and femininity are “not rigid categories,” but the masculine and the feminine cannot be inseparable from God’s work of creation. He discussed the need to help individuals, especially the young, “accept their own body as it was created.” He warned about pretensions to “cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it.”

The cardinal cited both the encyclical and the exhortation.

However, there are other Vatican sources that address the topic. In June 2019 the Congregation for Catholic Education criticized gender theory as a “cultural and ideological revolution.” In its document “Male and Female He Created Him,” the Vatican department outlined the origins of the mindset and the broad movement to enact policies and laws in alignment with its view of humankind.

Pope Francis’ prayer advice: Just be with Jesus ‘without ulterior motives’

Pope Francis at the general audience, Nov. 16, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 16, 2022 / 04:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis offered advice on Wednesday for building “a more mature and more beautiful relationship with the Lord” through prayer.

Speaking at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on a cold, cloudy morning on Nov. 16, the pope spoke about spiritual desolation and approaching prayer without solely seeking “emotional gratification” or as “a mere exchange.”

“Many of our prayers are also somewhat like this: they are requests for favors addressed to the Lord, without any real interest in him,” Pope Francis said.

“It does us a great deal of good to learn to be with him, to be with the Lord, to learn to be with the Lord without ulterior motives, exactly as it happens with people we care for: we wish to know them more and more because it is good to be with them,” he added.

Pope Francis at the general audience, Nov. 16, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis at the general audience, Nov. 16, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

The pope pointed to the example of a child’s relationship with his parents. He said that children often look to their parents for what they can give them: a toy, some money, ice cream, etc. It is only when one grows up that the realization occurs that the greatest gift is one’s parents, to be with them. 

“Dear brothers and sisters, the spiritual life is not a technique at our disposal, it is not a program for inner ‘well-being’ that it is up to us to plan. No. It is the relationship with the Living One, with God,” Francis said. 

The pope’s prayer advice was part of his eighth catechesis in a weekly series on spiritual discernment, which he began at the end of August.

Building upon his most recent catechesis on spiritual desolation, the pope underlined that the experience of desolation, or feeling emotionally dry in prayer, “can be an occasion for growth.”

“For many saints, restlessness was a decisive impetus to turn their lives around. … This is the case, for example, of Augustine of Hippo, Edith Stein, Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, and Charles de Foucauld,” he said.

The pope urged people to “never be discouraged” when facing difficulties with prayer, but to trust with determination that “the help of the grace of God is never lacking.”

At the end of his general audience, the pope prayed for the victims of the recent bombing in Istanbul and said that his “unceasing prayer is for martyred Ukraine.”

Pope Francis at the general audience, Nov. 16, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis at the general audience, Nov. 16, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis particularly raised concern about the potential for escalation in the war in Ukraine. NATO held emergency talks on Wednesday morning after Poland was struck by a missile, killing two people, according to the Associated Press.

“Let us pray that the Lord will convert the hearts of those who still insist on war, and make the desire for peace prevail for martyred Ukraine, to avoid any escalation and open the way to a cease-fire and dialogue,” Francis said.

Pope Francis also prayed that the Lord would grant the Ukrainians “consolation, strength in trials, and hope for peace.” He said: “We can pray for Ukraine, saying, ‘Hurry up Lord.’”

Pope Francis prays for Turkey after deadly Istanbul bombing

Pope Francis praying in St. Peter's Basilica on All Souls' Day, Nov. 2, 2022 / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 15, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has expressed his condolences for the victims of a deadly bombing on a busy pedestrian street in Istanbul over the weekend.

The Vatican published a message on Nov. 15 that expressed the pope’s spiritual closeness to the injured and those who mourn the loss of their loved ones who died in the explosion in Turkey’s capital.

“His Holiness prays that no act of violence will discourage the efforts of the people of Türkiye to build a society based on the values of fraternity, justice and peace,” it said.

The explosion on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, a popular shopping street, on Nov. 13 killed six people and led around 80 others to be hospitalized, according to the Associated Press. Among the victims were two girls, ages 9 and 15. Funerals were held for the victims on Monday.

Turkish police have said that Ahlam Albashir, a Syrian woman with links to Kurdish militants, confessed to planting the bomb while in police custody. A total of 50 suspects have been apprehended in connection with the bombing.

The papal message was addressed to Archbishop Marek Solczyński, the apostolic nuncio in Turkey, and signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.


‘Truly not an easy task’: German bishops begin talks in Rome amid Synodal Way concerns

The visit of the German bishops to Rome in November 2022 began with a Holy Mass in the grottoes of St. Peter's Basilica. / German Bishops' Conference/Matthias Kopp

CNA Newsroom, Nov 14, 2022 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Amid ongoing concerns over the German Synodal Way, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference on Monday at the Vatican said unity and renewal in the Catholic Church was “truly not an easy task.”

Celebrating Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 14, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg announced the German bishops would “openly and honestly address” the topics of the controversial process during their ad limina visit in Rome this week.

Every diocesan bishop in the world is required to make an “ad limina apostolorum” papal visit to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese. Sixty-three German bishops are in Rome this week for the visit, which concludes Nov. 18, according to the German Bishops’ Conference.

Bätzing said in his homily (German text) in St. Peter’s on Monday: “Preserving unity and at the same time enabling conversion and renewal — that is truly not an easy task for our Church today.”

Several German bishops were sighted in Rome over the last few weeks in an apparent effort to prepare conversations about the controversial process.

In an interview published on his diocese’s website ahead of the visit, Bätzing said he believed it was “no coincidence that we bishops are now invited to Rome.”

The German bishop said there was “a lot of lack of understanding about our process in Rome.” 

“That’s why I’m very grateful that we really have a lot of time to talk about this together. This is a real opportunity.”

The Synodal Way — Synodaler Weg in German, sometimes translated as Synodal Path — is a controversial process with the declared aim of debating and passing resolutions about four topics: the way power is exercised in the Church, the priesthood, the role of women, and sexual morality.

Writing about the process, Pope Francis in 2019 warned of disunity in a letter to German Catholics

More recently, in early November, Pope Francis spoke about making sure to “not lose the people’s sense of faith.” 

It was true, he said, that “Germany has a great Protestant church. I don’t want another one that is not as good as this one. I want Catholics to be fraternally united with the Protestant church.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a theologian considered close to the pope, in June warned that the German process is at risk of “breaking its own neck” if it does not heed the objections raised by a growing number of bishops around the world — and concerned Catholics in Germany.

In April, more than 100 cardinals and bishops released a “fraternal open letterwarning that sweeping changes to Church teaching advocated by the process may lead to schism.

In March, an open letter from the Nordic bishops expressed alarm at the German process. In February, a strongly-worded letter from the president of Poland’s Catholic bishops’ conference raised serious questions

Bishop Bätzing has repeatedly dismissed any and all concerns, instead expressing disappointment in Pope Francis in May.  

Two months later, in July, the Vatican issued another warning of a new schism from Germany coming out of the Synodal Way.

Ahead of the visit this week, Bätzing said he would not appear primarily as the German bishops’ president in Rome but as bishop of Limburg, CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported.

“The current situation of the Church is very challenging,” the bishop said.

“It hits me personally very hard that so many people are leaving the Church. In doing so, they are casting a vote and showing me that they no longer agree with the way the Church presents itself. The reasons are certainly varied and, for the most part, justified. Nevertheless, there are reasons to stay.”

Seven years ago, Pope Francis lamented the “erosion” of the faith in Germany: At the last visit of the German bishops to Rome in 2015, Pope Francis called on them to pay greater attention to the sacraments and to diligently perform their “function as a teacher of the faith.” 

“Excessive centralization, instead of helping, can complicate the life of the Church and her missionary dynamic,” the pope warned the German prelates in November 2015.

Major Archbishop Shevchuk denounces ‘genocidal‘ war in Ukraine

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk. / ACI Group

Rome Newsroom, Nov 14, 2022 / 08:02 am (CNA).

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church last week met Pope Francis as well as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and other dicastery heads. 

In Rome for the first time since the war in Ukraine began, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk also celebrated the Divine Liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica — in front of the tomb of St. Josaphat on Nov. 12, the saint’s feast day. 

The Mass saw the participation of many bishops from Ukraine who had come to Rome for different reasons. They were joined by Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, president of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences.

In an exclusive interview with CNA, Shevchuk took stock of his week in Rome. He provided a perspective on the history and role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Andrea Gagliarducci speaking with His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk. UGCC Major Archbishop
Andrea Gagliarducci speaking with His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk. UGCC Major Archbishop

The major archbishop also refuted claims the church was “national” and denounced the “genocidal claim” of the war, all the while underscoring that he was hopeful nevertheless — because his hope is in God the Savior. 

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church also offered his view on the future of his country after the war.

The meetings at the Vatican

On Nov. 6, His Beatitude kicked off his week of meetings with an audience with Pope Francis. During the week, he had several bilateral meetings.

Shevchuk told CNA he found “a great openness and a great willingness to listen from everyone.”

Before being elected major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Shevchuk was the Eparch for Buenos Aires, where he met the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the later Pope Francis. The Ukrainian major archbishop and the pope from Argentina are longtime friends.

Speaking of his latest meeting with the pope, Shevchuk said the pontiff “had a paternal warmth towards me that moved me. He assured me that both he and the Holy See are willing to do everything possible to alleviate the pains of the Ukrainian people and end this unjust aggression.”

However, he added, “it is difficult to outline how to end this war. The world is looking for methods, formulas, and even possible mediation mechanisms. However, the Holy See is willing to do everything possible to ensure that this war ends as soon as possible.”

Shevchuk also met with Cardinal Kurt Koch at the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity, with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri at the Dicastery for the Eastern Church, and with the top officials of the Dicastery for the Catholic Education and Culture, since the Catholic University of Ukraine is “now in the process of updating the statutes.”

On Nov. 12, the major archbishop met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. Shevchuk said they spoke in detail about “the efforts of pontifical diplomacy in favor of peace, and above all of the efforts to assist the Ukrainian people.”

On his side, Shevchuk thanked for the liberation of some prisoners, and in particular the Holy Father “who is committed to ensuring that all those who suffer the ill-treatment and torture of Russian captivity can truly return home. And I also brought new cases, collected while visiting our parishes and eparchies.”

Finally, “we also talked with Cardinal Parolin about the approaching winter and how to experience this cold period. As we know, Russia is systematically destroying our city’s critical infrastructure. Now Kyiv lives practically without light, and if there is no electricity in a large apartment building, there is no water, no heating, and no possibility of cooking because all kitchens work with electricity. Large apartment buildings and skyscrapers have become cold traps.”

The challenges in Ukraine

Shevchuk explained that “there is the need to face a great humanitarian challenge” since “we have nearly 10 million internally displaced people and refugees.”

“Some have remained in Ukraine, and others have crossed the border and are in European countries because the Church in Europe has opened its heart, homes, churches, and parishes for our refugees,” the Ukrainian prelate said. 

“We have also thought about concrete steps to help this suffering population. Some foresee another wave of displaced persons or refugees and call them ‘thermal refugees’ because they will be moving around looking for a place to warm up to stay alive.” 

When Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, he said the main goal was the Ukrainian de-Nazification.

However, the Ukrainian State and Ukrainian nationalism have a broader history.

In particular, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church “has a troubled history,” said Shevchuk.

He stressed that “we are children of the Baptism of Kyiv Rus, we were born in the waters of the Dnieper River, which is often nicknamed ‘the Ukrainian Jordan’ when the holy princes Vladimir and Olga were baptized in the river in 988.”

Shevchuk continued: “Kyiv was the cradle of Christian civilization in Eastern Europe. All the other countries were born later. The Moscow Church is also a daughter of the Kyiv Church.”

Shevchuk added that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is “the only church that carries within itself the mystical memory of the Church of undivided Christianity because all the other Slavic churches were born after the so-called Eastern Schism.”

He said: “the Church of Kyiv has always considered the division between Rome and Constantinople as something against the very nature of the Church. The first centuries of the division were experienced as a quarrel between Rome and Constantinople. Metropolitan Isidore of Kyiv participated in the Council of Florence in 1451.” Then, “in 1596, the Kyiv Church decided to enter into communion with Rome,” he added.

Shevchuk said the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had always been “a Church of the people,” also when the nation lost its statehood and “experienced the situation of being a people living in their land, but in alien states. Often our church exercised some functions of the state to help the people.”

“In the years of the Soviet Union, our church was truly liquidated by Stalin’s regime. We were forced to live in hiding, constituting the largest resistance group against Communism of the 20th century. Yet, not even Stalin managed to eliminate us.”

With the fall of the Soviet Union, Shevchuk said, “our church was reborn. It came out of the catacombs. I was a young priest and saw the resurrection of our church. It was a true Easter experience. We are disciples of priests who have been in prison for many years and carried the signs suffered for their church on their flesh.”

The role of the Greek Catholic Church in this war

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church leader had publicly lent his voice to the so-called “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014 and always supported the people’s call for more democracy and closeness toward the European Union.

Shevchuk reiterated, “We, as I said, have always stood by our people, whatever the conditions. This is still the case today.”

The major archbishop also described the claim that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was nationalist as “pure propaganda of the Kremlin.“

“We are not a Ukrainian Church that is only for Ukrainians,” Shevchuk said. 

“The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church cannot be accused of nationalism because today we have Ukrainian Greek Catholics of Chinese origin in Vancouver, and we have many parishioners who are not of Ukrainian ethnicity in Canada, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia.”

Shevchuk added that the cathedral in Kyiv became a refuge for everyone during the current war. 

“No one has ever asked ‘what language do you speak?’ or ‘which church you go to?’ On the contrary, we welcomed everyone who needed it, providing food, medicine, and everything they could to save lives. This is our identity: We are an Eastern Church of Byzantine tradition, which considers the Church of Constantinople as the mother Church, but which remains in full communion with the successor of Peter and breathes this mentality.”

Because of this extensive history before it, Shevchuk said, “all those who affirm that Ukraine must be de-Nazified somehow affirm that the Ukrainian people do not exist. That the Ukrainian people do not have an ethnic origin.” 

From this point of view, the Ukrainian prelate continued, Russia should “educate these ‘slightly underdeveloped Russians,’ or eliminate them. So this war, and the propaganda that feeds it, is the fruit of a genocidal ideology.”

The ecumenical impact

For over 25 years the Pan-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations in Ukraine has brought together all the Ukrainian religious denominations and today it has become an authoritative voice.

Shevchuk said the institution had become an essential moral authority and that “since the war broke out, our council has proved to be a very efficient body for meeting new challenges.”

Among the latest initiatives, there is an appeal to intellectual centers worldwide to study and respond to Russky Mir, the ideology of the “Russian world.” 

According to Shevchuk, “this ideology was born within the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, and we are seeing it in the latest patriarch’s sermons. It is an ideology that brings death and destruction to Ukraine, I have personally witnessed.“ 

The council has made several appeals to stop the war. “We wrote a letter to churchmen and religious representatives of Russia to do everything to stop this war. We wrote to the Belarusian people not to enter this war. It is a service we do in the name of the common good, and this love for our people has made us overcome many discords between our churches.”

The representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is under the Moscow Patriarchate, agreed to the letter.

Ukraine’s future

What does the future hold for Ukraine? How can one rebuild trust between Russia and Ukrainians, across borders, between people living side by side, or together?

To Shevchuk, this is “an open question.” In his daily video messages, he has addressed the issue and outlined his views on designing the nation after the war based on Catholic social teaching.

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church added that nowadays, healing means, first of all, “rebuilding the Ukrainian people’s trust in democratic values.”

“We, as a people, want to rebuild the values ​​of democracy. But of course, we also have to face the great challenge of rebuilding human and social relationships. So, in addition to international relations, the topic is how to heal the wounds caused by the war between Ukrainians and Russians.”

He added: “We seek answers. We see this will be a long process of reconciliation. And there are conditions for reconciliation, which are understandable. The Ukrainian population is susceptible to external imposition of peace or forced reconciliation. This is not peace. It is just the destruction of a smaller state by a stronger state.”

Conditions for peace

According to the major archbishop, “the Russian people must realize that the Ukraine exists, admit the Ukrainian state’s right to resistance, and reconcile with the reality that the Ukrainian people have their history, language, and culture.” 

Shevchuk added: “We have the right to exist while preserving our identity as a political, non-exclusive, but inclusive nation, as seen by the fact that Jewish communities proclaim themselves Ukrainian citizens (our president is of Jewish origin) and the head of civil administration and Mykolaiv’s military is a Korean, the famous Kim.”

In the end, he said, “Russia must recognize the existence of this reality of Ukraine. If, on the other hand, Russia speaks to Ukraine in the language of ultimatums, there can be no peace process.”

After that, “we must truly seek justice because authentic peace without justice does not exist. We must discover the whole truth, even if it is crude, and I am also talking about the violence that took place at the hands of Russia in the martyr cities of Ukraine. Even in these latest events, truth-based justice is a step towards future reconciliation.”

According to Shevchuk, “We must not reconcile geopolitical ideas or views or proposed formulas of an illusory peace. Instead, we must reconcile hearts and people, and we know that reconciliation between people requires constant spiritual and moral work.”

“It is a work that will truly last for a long time, and we cannot say how long it will take to heal hearts.”

In conclusion, the Major Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church showed himself hopeful, despite everything.

“I have hope. My hope is not an illusion or an escape from a cruel reality. It is a hope in the Lord. When we do not know what will become of us, we can draw on the strength of God, which is the strongest of all, and which is Wisdom itself. When we do not know how we will live in two or three months, we must not be too agitated because not man but God is the master of time and space. If we live with hope in God, we live hope.”

He concluded: “The world without God is doomed to death. Illnesses, and wars, are visible signs of death present in the flesh of a world that has rejected God. Therefore, we must bring God back into this world.”

Pope Francis shares meal with the poor

Pope Francis receives a hug from a child during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 14, 2022 / 03:26 am (CNA).

Pope Francis had lunch with around 1,300 poor from Rome on Sunday.

The meal was part of several Vatican-sponsored initiatives marking the sixth annual World Day of the Poor, including a free mobile medical clinic in St. Peter’s Square.

After two years off due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the free lunch was again offered in the Paul VI Hall for people in Rome living in poverty.

Pope Francis receives a hug from a child during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis receives a hug from a child during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis has always joined the meal — which began in 2017 during the first World Day of the Poor; he spends time in conversation with those at his table and he greets others who approach him.

Throughout his pontificate, Francis has placed a strong emphasis on concrete outreach to those in need. 

He has spoken often about those at the margins of society and condemned what he has called a “throwaway culture” that neglects people it finds inconvenient or a burden.

Pope Francis during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

At Mass on Nov. 13, the pope said: “We should always repeat this to ourselves, especially at times of greatest trouble: God is a Father, and he is at my side. He knows and loves me; he does not sleep, but watches over me and cares for me. If I stay close to him, not a hair of my head will perish.”

“And how do I respond to this?” he added. “By looking at our brothers and sisters in need; by looking at the throwaway culture that discards the poor and people with few possibilities; a culture that discards the old and unborn … by looking at all of them; as a Christian, what should I do in this moment?”

Pope Francis during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis has also shared meals with the poor during visits to Assisi and Bologna, Italy.

After the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta on Sept. 4, 2016, the pope offered a pizza lunch to 1,500 poor cared for by the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order.

Pope Francis during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis during lunch on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA


Perseverance is a reflection of God’s love, Pope Francis says

Pope Francis at the Angelus on Nov. 13, 2022. / Credit: Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 13, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The virtue of perseverance reflects to the world the unchanging love of God, Pope Francis said in his Angelus message Sunday.

After celebrating Mass for the World Day of the Poor, the pope led the Angelus, a traditional Marian prayer, from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

“Perseverance is the reflection in the world of God’s love, because God’s love is faithful, it never changes,” Francis said Nov. 13 in a short message.

He referenced the day’s Gospel, in which Jesus tells those gathered to hear him that “in history almost everything collapses: there will be, he says, revolutions and wars, earthquakes and famines, pestilence and persecution, and so on.”

It is as if Jesus is saying “one should not place too much trust in earthly realities, which pass,” the pope said. “They are wise words…”

He said Jesus is trying to teach us the virtue of perseverance.

Francis explained that perseverance indicates a high level of strictness, but Jesus did not mean being inflexible and rigid with our own standards.

“Jesus asks us to be ‘strict,’ uncompromising, persistent in what he has at heart, in what counts,” he underlined.

“Because, what truly counts, very often does not coincide with what attracts our interest,” he said. “We prioritize the works of our hands, our successes, our religious and civil traditions, our sacred and social symbols. They are important things, but they pass away.”

The pope said Jesus wants us to focus on building “on his word, on love, on goodness.”

“Here, then, is perseverance: it is building goodness every day,” he said. “To persevere is to remain constant in goodness, especially when the reality around us urges us to do otherwise.”

Francis gave a few examples of what it means to not persevere in goodness: putting off prayer because you have a lot to do; not following the rules because you see others dodging them; discontinuing your service to the Church, community, and poor because others use their free time for pleasure; not seeing results; and boredom.

“Let us ask ourselves: how is my perseverance? Am I constant, or do I live faith, justice, and charity according to the moment?” he said. “In short, do my prayer and service depend on circumstances or on a heart that is steadfast in the Lord?”

The pope quoted a line from “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which says: “Have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth.”

“If we persevere — Jesus reminds us — we have nothing to fear, even in the sad and ugly events of life, not even in the evil we see around us, because we remain grounded in the good,” the pope said.