The bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, gathered in a synod in Lviv, have asked the international community to restore peace in Ukraine in response to military actions taken by …
A Church with verve is at risk in Ukraine
No one should need persuading that what’s happening in Ukraine right now is alarming. A fragile cease-fire between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces could unravel at any moment, and even more lives may be at risk this winter as the country scrambles to make up for lost Russian gas.
Most basically, if one nation can slice off a piece of another with impunity, it’s hard to know what international law means.
Yet if Catholics require an additional reason for concern, it’s this: What’s at stake in Ukraine isn’t just geopolitics or the military balance of power, but also one of the most remarkable Catholic communities anywhere in the world.
The Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine is the largest of the 22 “Eastern churches” in the Catholic fold. Mostly located in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, these churches follow Eastern Orthodox rituals and spirituality, but acknowledge the pope as their leader. There are roughly 3 million Greek Catholics in Ukraine, around 7 percent of the population, and 6 to 10 million worldwide.
Though little known in the West, the church’s recent history is the stuff of Hollywood drama.
In the Soviet era, the Greek Catholic Church was the largest illegal religious body in the world, and suffered mightily for it. In percentage terms, no church produced more 20th century martyrs. Pope John Paul II beatified more than two dozen victims during a trip to the country in 2001, and most experts believe the total number of Greek Catholics who perished in that era of violent oppression is in the thousands.