From suffering to self-esteem ” “

A national commission for Church-State relations has been operative for three months" "

“Understanding and help” from the European Union. Cardinal Lubomyr Husar , major archbishop of Lviv (Leopoli) and head of the Greek-Catholic Church of the Ukraine made this request for his country at a meeting held in Brussels over the last few days. The meeting was promoted by the Comece (Commission of Episcopates of the European Union) and the theme of the gathering was “the new Europe and the new Ukraine”. An “ongoing historical process” in which, Husar explained, “the novelty for Europe resides in the new geographical order while, for the Ukraine, novelty is synonymous with rediscovering and recognising European unity”. Looking back over the historical events that have marked the former Soviet republic, the archbishop highlighted the fact that “the Ukraine of the twenty-first century, although apparently new, is the result of two world wars, of a succession of foreign occupations, of terrible famines – true genocides – and of the Bolshevik regime which governed the eastern area of the country for 70 years, and the western area for 45”, producing that “ homo sovieticus” who, “compelled to destroy his family graves and deny Christian values, now lives suspended between two opposing worlds: Catholic tradition and civil life”. Husar went on: “This is the picture that must be borne in mind when evaluating the Ukraine and its possible future membership of the European Union. Indeed, the total lack of values and the widespread uncertainty are inevitably reflected in the economic, social and political spheres, influencing the development of the country”. Hence the request for “understanding and help” from the European Union. Understanding is necessary “to enter the hearts of Ukrainians, to relieve past suffering and thus avoid useless criticisms and judgements”. Help of a “spiritual and moral” nature is particularly important “for the new generations, that they do not see themselves as victims without a future, and may regain their self-esteem”. The cardinal also launched an appeal to European institutions that, by “concrete example”, they help his country “to rediscover its heritage of shared fundamental values. Only in this way can the Ukraine become a rightful member of Europe, a Europe that was, is, and must remain, unique”. Catholics in the Ukraine. According to information contained in the latest Statistical Yearbook of the Church, there are more than five and a half million Catholics in the Ukraine, most of them Greek-Catholics of Byzantine rite. The total population numbers 50,550,000 of whom 60% are Orthodox. The country has 17 ecclesiastical circumscriptions divided as follows: three metropolitan sees, a major archiepiscopate, 11 eparchies, one apostolic administration and one patriarchal exarchate. The total number of parishes is 3,676. In the face of such figures as these, Husar affirmed, “the Church cannot be conceived merely as an instrument of political propaganda”. He himself was only able to return to his archdiocese of Lviv at the end of 1991, at the close of the Communist persecution which liquidated the Catholic Church, forcibly unifying it with the Russian Orthodox Church. On this matter, Husar recalled that “three months ago, the Ukrainian Churches formed a national commission to define relations between Church and State”. What religious liberty? According to the “2003 Report on religious liberty in the world”, respect for religious freedom is improving in the country. Confiscated ecclesiastical property has, in large part, been returned, and on 21 March President Leonid Kucma signed a decree which aims to overcome “some of the prejudicial effects on religions” that had permeated the Soviet period. Nonetheless, there seems to be no let-up in the control of Catholic priests by the Sbu (Ukrainian Security Service) as they seek information on the financial status of parishes and – by directly questioning priests and tapping their telephones – enquire into the political sentiments of the population.

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