“The God-given vocation to Ukraine is a vocation to reconciliation, peace and unity. For this is always the calling of God. Failing to seek this path means contradicting the will of God, the will of the Gospel.” These were the first remarks of the founder of the monastic community of Bose Enzo Bianchi, commenting on the situation in Ukraine ahead of the anticipated meeting of the members of the Permanent Synod and the Metropolitans of the Greek-Catholic Church with Pope Francis. Each year Bose is the venue of an important international ecumenical conference on Orthodox spirituality. The theme of this year’s meeting (September 4-6) is “Called to Life in Christ. In the Church, in the World, in the present time.” We asked Enzo Bianchi to explain the reasons that led the Holy Father to invite to Rome the heads of the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine and the most urgent issues affecting the Churches and society of this Country.
Mr. Bianchi, Ukraine is a land with a painful past and a present with open wounds. Why has the Pope summoned the members of the Permanent Synod and the Metropolitans of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to Rome?
I think the reason is quite understandable. In the first place the Country declares itself in a state of conflict against Russia, with warlike actions on both sides. Then there is the very complex situation of divisions in the Christian Churches, notably within the Orthodox world, with at least three Churches in serious conflict with one another. Against this backdrop we find Latin-rite and Byzantine-rite Catholics, albeit constituting a minority. That’s why I believe that the Pope is summoning the bishops in communion with him; to jointly analyse the situation, define the tools, undertake paths of reconciliation and peace understood as true signs of the Gospel for that land.
Ukraine saw a clash between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow. The Greek-Catholic Church stands between them. What role can Greek-Catholics play and, more importantly, which errors must be avoided and what is the line of Francis?
The situation is undeniably extremely complex and challenging, and even the Greek-Catholic Church could be tempted to take sides and stand with those requesting autonomy from Moscow.
I believe that the position of the Papacy that has always been intelligent – as from the post-Council period – is first of all not to get involved in the conflicts that could arise between the sister Orthodox Churches. Also in this case the Pope is asking to act with forethought, to avoid being caught up in this conflict between Moscow and Constantinople but rather to be architects of reconciliation, of peace. This situation requires great caution.
In a recent interview to Risu News agency, after a long time His Beatitude Shevchuk addressed the issue of the Holy See’s recognition of a Patriarchate for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. He said: “For us a patriarchate is not only some title or name, but, above all, a way of existing.”
I am aware of this. I understand that such a large Church – with millions of faithful – seeks recognition of the Patriarchate.
In fact Rome has not granted the title of Patriarchate to a Church for centuries. And it could hardly be done without interfering with the ancient order of the Patriarchates.
The Patriarchate may well be conceived in a new form also for the West, but given the current situation, in which we want dialogue with Orthodoxy, marked by respect for the historical Patriarchates, if a Catholic Patriarchate were to be established it would make things very difficult, especially with regard to the dialogue with Moscow. It should be noted that even Constantinople, in granting autonomy to the Church of Kiev, has not yet left room for the conception of the Patriarchate. These are very complex historical balances. And we must be very careful not to offend sensibilities, or cause an upset.
These issues are hard to understand for us here in Italy, as they come up against a world struggling with conflicts and deep wounds. What does today’s history ask of the Churches, even in Ukraine?
At a time when all the Churches – – although not simultaneously – are experiencing a crisis in their life before the world, amidst widespread indifference not only in the West but throughout the northern hemisphere, bearing witness to unity and reconciliation should stir everyone’s conscience and sense of responsibility for what the Lord is asking of us today. Even if this means being poorer or seemingly unsuccessful. The Gospel message does not ask for victory, it asks us to remain faithful to kindness, to reconciliation, to the tenet of unity.