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Monday, 13 January 2014

Ukraine's Ministry of Culture threatens to terminate the legal registration of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

The Ukrainian government of President Victor Yanukovych, who  caused surprise a few months ago when he unilaterally withdrew Ukraine from a long-running process of effecting an "association" between with the European Union, in preference for a deal with Russia to re-finance Ukraine's external debt and to enter a fuel supply contract, with the prospect of entering a customs and trade union with Russia, Belarus and other former Soviet states, has threatened to withdraw the legal registration of - in other words, to suppress - the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Several months after the President's apparently unmandated decision, protests and demonstrations of a peaceful nature have been maintained in Kyiv's Independence Square. The "Euromaidan" demonstration has been heavily policed, since its persistence and strength of numbers (with particularly strong support in Kyiv and Western Ukraine and among younger generations) in favour of European integration is seen by the government as a threat to national security. The demonstrators, however, believe that the government intends to surrender Ukrainian sovereignty to a union of states led from Moscow by Russia, along the lines of the former Soviet Union or the Russian Empire. Accordingly they see that they are protesting for the freedoms for Ukraine won in the Orange Revolution of 2004, which saw Yanukovych resign as Prime Minister over electoral irregularities. After his close-run election as President in 2010, he has pursued pro-Moscow policies, including the politically motivated arrest and conviction of his predecessor, leading Western governments to question his fidelity to the rule of law and the independence of the judicial system.

Without involving themselves in a political movement, Ukrainian Catholic clergy have responded to protestors' appeal for pastoral support and religious ministry. Moreover, Patriarch Sviatoslav, in the face of government repression of the demonstrations in Kyiv and many other cities, has throughout expressed his solidarity, supporting the protestors' right to make their voice heard at what appears to be a moment that will determine the fate of the country. He has called on the government to desist from attacking peaceful protestors and insisted that no one may shed blood.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church's leaders have been careful not to act with political bias, expressing their support of the demonstration movement consistently in terms of the right to equal justice, peaceful association, freedom, democratic decision-making in civil society, the rule of law, and honest, fair and corruption-free conduct in public office. Many of the Ukrainian Catholic faithful taking part in the Euromaidan, alongside other fellow Christians, young people and those of no marked religious outlook, see their stand in terms of Catholic Social Teaching and the whole Catholic Church's universal witness to the freedom of conscience, human liberty, democratic principles in civil society, and to justice and peace. They have urgently appealed to Pope Francis for an expression of solidarity and support in this endeavour. Their protest has, however, hardly registered in the Western press and media.

Today, the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, an news and media agency of the Ukrainian Catholic University, revealed that, following a number of restrictions on civil liberties, the freedom and legal existence of the Church has been threatened by the government with termination. This evokes the post World War II conquest of Western Ukraine by Stalin when, in March 1946, he suppressed the Church, handing its properties to the Russian Orthodox Church and forcing the clergy and faithful to convert from their Catholic Church and faith - or underground. The freedom of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the reclamation of its rightful patrimony did not begin until the end of the Soviet Union and is a matter of controversy in the eyes of the Moscow Patriarchate to this day.

Here is the RISU report:
Ministry of Culture threatened to terminate the registration of the UGCC because of the priests' presence on Euromaidan

RISU - 3 January 2014, 11:58 | Church-state relations |

Patriarch Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) on 13 January published and commented on the letter from the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine on the possible termination of the activities of religious organizations based on their activity on Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) where for two months peaceful protests have been held.

On Christmas Eve, January 6, the Greek-Catholic head received an official letter from the Ministry about "systematic disregard for the law by some priests on Independence Square, allegedly supported Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church authorities."

According to the Ministry, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has violated the requirements of the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, holding religious activities on the Square in December 2013 and at the beginning of 2014.

In response to this information from the Ministry of Culture the Patriarch said that the Church is not taking part in political events, but it "cannot stay apart when the faithful ask for spiritual care ," as well to be present on the Square.

"Our Church has always been true and will remain so for the future mission that Christ the Saviour entrusted, despite all the threats. We thought that the time of repression had passed, but letters like these raise doubts. We are not ashamed of our presence on the Maidan and will remain there, " said the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

We currently do not known if such letters have been received by other churches or religious organizations.

The last time that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was "removed from the register" was in March 1946, during Stalin's purges and for 40 years it existed illegally.
In the midst of this crisis, Patriarch Sviatoslav insists on the preaching of peace. At the Ukrainian Church's request for prayer and solidarity, we join our prayers with his for the reconciliation of all in peace and justice, for the unity of Christians, for the freedom of the Lord's people, and for the coming of God's reign on earth, as it is in heaven.

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