What does Zelensky's call to the pontiff mean?

04 July 2021 20:42
Vladimir Zelensky is waiting for the Pope in Ukraine. Photo: UOJ Vladimir Zelensky is waiting for the Pope in Ukraine. Photo: UOJ

Zelensky told the Pope that Ukrainians are waiting for his visit, eager to canonize Sheptytsky, and added there are no interfaith conflicts in the country. Is it all so?

On June 30, 2021, on the occasion of the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (according to the Gregorian calendar), the President of Ukraine called Pope Francis. Zelensky told the pontiff that there are no sectarian conflicts in Ukraine, that Ukrainians are looking forward to the beatification of the Uniate Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, but the main purpose of the conversation was an attempt to persuade the Pope to come to Ukraine. Ideally, for the celebration of Independence Day, although the press release from the Office of the President did not mention the dates. It's too early to talk about whether V. Zelensky managed to persuade Pope Francis to come, but the fact that the main information resource of the Vatican, Vatican News, did not mention this conversation at all, indicates that the attempt was not particularly successful.

However, the issue of the Pope's arrival will be settled by the efforts of Ukraine, but, unfortunately, external factors. And the Pope's visit this year may well take place. For the Ukrainian authorities and personally for V. Zelensky, this would be a powerful “game-changer", which cannot be said about Ukraine and its people. Why? Let's turn to history.

What Catholicism brought to Ukraine

Attempts to catholicize our country were carried out even before the Baptism of Rus. In 961, a certain Bishop Adalbert was sent to Russia, whose task was to convert our people to Christianity in the jurisdiction of the Roman Pope. Although almost a hundred years remained before the official break between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the difference between Eastern and Western Christianity was already significant. The Tale of Bygone Years, which told about the choice of faith by Prince Vladimir, for all its ambiguity, tells us about the impressions of Prince Vladimir’s ambassadors from Western Christianity: “We came to German churches and saw different services, but there was no beauty in them.” Yet, it was not about beauty, of course. 

The "Tale" is silent about the fact that the papacy in the 80s of the X century had not yet "recovered" from one of the most shameful periods of its history, later called "pornocracy". Then the influential Theophylact family disposed of the Roman See as their property, notably two women from this family – Theodora and Marosia – who had a reputation as harlots and enthroned their sons and lovers on the papal see. Here is how the English historian Edward Gibbon writes about it: “The influence of these two whores, Marosia and Theodora, came from their beauty and wealth, and was also the result of their political and love intrigues. They awarded their most devoted lovers with papal tiaras. The era of their reign, perhaps, gave rise to the legend of the female pope. The holy throne was occupied by Marosia’s illegitimate son, grandson and great-grandson. A rare genealogy for the successors of St. Peter on Earth." Accordingly, debauchery and intrigue ruled at the papal court. It is unlikely that the holy noble Prince Vladimir wanted to assimilate it for the Kievan Rus.

Over the course of subsequent history, there were random attempts by the Western Russian princes to subordinate the Orthodox to the Pope in exchange for political and other everyday “perks”, but they all ended in failure. That is why the Orthodox bishops looked more and more to the north. It is no coincidence that two Kiev metropolitans, immigrants from Volyn, Cyril (XIII century) and Saint Peter (XIV century), after being appointed to the Kiev See, settled not in the Galicia-Volyn principality, but in Vladimir-Suzdal. More about this can be found in the article: "Saint Peter, the Volyn Patron of Moscow."

Significant success in the Catholicization of the Orthodox population of Ukraine was achieved in 1596, when the Brest Union was concluded. After that, the authorities of the Commonwealth provided full state support for the Uniates, while Orthodoxy was actually outlawed and became persecuted and illegal. Orthodox churches and church property were forcibly transferred to the Uniates. Orthodox priests were expelled from their places, subjected to violence and persecution. But despite all the measures of coercion, despite the fact that the entire episcopate (with the exception of two hierarchs) joined the union, the Orthodox clergy, the people and most of the monasteries remained faithful to Orthodoxy.

Shevchenko vividly told how much grief the union caused to the people of Ukraine in his poem "To the Poles" (free translation):

”When we were Cossacks
And there was no union at all,
We used to enjoy our life!

Fraternizing with free Polacks,
Being proud of our free steppes,
Our girls, like lilies,
Being in love and blooming.

The mothers were proud of their sons,
Sons were free and growing up,
And when they became mature,
The gladdened their old parents’ hearts

...Until by the name of Christ
Catholic priests came and burnt
Our quiet paradise. And poured
Extensive sea of tears and blood,

And orphans by the name of Christ
Were murdered and crucified.
Cossacks were crestfallen
With their heads bent like trodden grass

Ukraine is crying and groaning!
Its people are falling dead beneath.
Torturers are ferocious,
And Catholic priests are crying out madly
“Te deum! Hallelujah!”

This is, my brothers,
How Catholic clergy separated
And made us alien to one another
Otherwise our life would have been the same

But stretch your hand to your Cossack brother
And take out your pure heart,
So that we could restore our quiet paradise
With the name of Christ.”

The imposition of the union brought tears, groans, enmity and blood to Ukraine. In the last lines of this poem, T. Shevchenko mentioned the Cossacks, the only defenders of Orthodoxy in Ukraine at that time. Indeed, the main factor in the Cossack movement and Cossack uprisings was resistance to the Catholicization of Ukraine.

At the same time, the motivation of the authorities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the forcible planting of the union was the same as today: by breaking the church unity of the people of Ukraine with Orthodoxy, the authorities wanted to break the political and mental ties of Ukraine with Russia (the Muscovite at that time). However, this was their gross mistake. In order to achieve political loyalty from the Orthodox population of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the authorities of this state should not have oppressed, but, on the contrary, should have given freedom to the population of Ukraine both in the religious sphere and in other spheres of public life.

Let us say about the role of Greek Catholics in the history of Ukraine in the 20th century with a quote from the press service of the Odessa diocese of the UOC, when the Orthodox of Odessa protested against the Uniate expansion in their region in 2010: “Our people still have fresh memories of the role played by the Greek the Catholic Church in the Nazi occupation, its complicity with the occupiers, collaboration, the participation of the Uniate leadership in Jewish and Polish pogroms, which is much talked about not only in Ukraine, but also in Poland and Israel.

Andrei Sheptytsky, the head of the UGCC, personally blessed and admonished the SS "Galizien" division that was sent to destroy the civilian population. For some reason, paid journalists choose not to remember tens of thousands of innocent victims of the terror organized by the Uniates in Western Ukraine, they do not want to mention in their publications the names of hundreds of clergy tortured by the OUN-UPA and Galician SS with the blessing of the leaders of the Greek Catholic Church."

In the early 90s, the Uniates were marked by the seizure of more than 2,000 Orthodox churches in western Ukraine, almost completely defeating three Orthodox dioceses. Often these raids were accompanied by violence and illegal seizure of property.

History unambiguously testifies that Catholicism, mainly in the form of Uniatism, eventuated in inter-religious enmity, violence, and violation of the rights of the Orthodox population to Ukraine.

Bearing in mind this history, is it possible to agree with the words of Vladimir Zelensky that Ukrainians are waiting for the visit of the Pope? Hardly.

"Saint" Andrey Sheptytsky?

According to the press service of the President, V. Zelensky told the Pope that the Ukrainian people "anticipate the beatification of Metropolitan Sheptytsky," that is, his recognition as a "saint". This should probably be one of the arguments for the pontiff to come to Ukraine.

But is it really so?

Let's recall the consequences of the Nazi occupation for Ukraine. According to the Central State Electronic Archive of Ukraine, “The Nazi occupation regime in Ukraine was one of the most brutal in the world. The Nazis destroyed 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews and 20 thousand Roma either with their own hands or with the involvement of ‘volunteers’ from among the local population."

As for the toll among the Ukrainians themselves, they are as follows: “During the hostilities and in captivity, 3-4 million soldiers, undercover workers and civilians were killed, 4-5 million civilians died due to the occupation terror and famine in the rear, 5 million inhabitants were evacuated or forcibly taken to Russia and Germany, some of which did not return. In general, the irrecoverable losses of Ukraine (Ukrainians and other peoples) amounted to 8-10 million people. Material damage amounted to 285 billion rubles at that time. As a result of the hostilities, more than 700 cities and towns, 5.6 thousand bridges, 28 thousand villages, 300 thousand households were damaged."

How can a nation, which was inflicted such sufferings, wish that an active Nazi collaborator become “holy”? In fact, it is simply impossible to hide or ignore the fact of Andrey Sheptytsky's cooperation with the German invaders. For example, here is the text of Andrey Sheptytsky's congratulatory letter to Adolf Hitler on September 23, 1941 after the Germans captured Kiev:

"Your Excellency! As the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, I convey to Your Excellency my heartfelt congratulations on the capture of the capital of Ukraine, the gold-domed city on the Dnieper – Kiev. We see in you the invincible commander of the incomparable and glorious German army. The cause of the destruction and eradication of Bolshevism, which you, as the Fuehrer of the great German Reich, set as your goal in this campaign, provides your Excellency with the gratitude of the entire Christian world. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church knows the true meaning of the powerful movement of the German people under your leadership. I will pray to God for the blessing of victory, which will vouch for the lasting peace for Your Excellency, the German army and the German nation.

With special respect, Andrey, Count Sheptytsky, Metropolitan."

In January 1942, Andrey Sheptytsky offered cooperation to Adolf Hitler and wrote: “We assure you, Your Excellency, that the leading circles in Ukraine are striving for the closest cooperation with Germany, so that the allied forces of the German and Ukrainian people ... implement a new order in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe."

What was the “new order in Ukraine” that the head of the UGCC wanted to implement together with the Nazis? According to the OST plan, out of the survivors of the offensive of the "incomparable and glorious German army", 65% of Ukrainians had to be resettled to Siberia, while those who remained should become slaves for their new German masters.

And here is the appeal of Andrey Sheptytsky to the Ukrainians, who were forcibly taken to work in Germany, condemning them to slave labor, hunger, and often death: “Staying in a foreign land will bring you some benefit and advantages. You will learn a foreign language, get to know the world and people, gain everyday experience, get a lot of knowledge that can be useful to you further in life."

Can the head of the state, which has suffered some of the greatest losses in the bloodiest war in human history, declare his desire to beatify the fascist accomplice Andrei Sheptytsky? The question is rhetorical.

Are there no interfaith conflicts in Ukraine?

Press service of the President: “During the conversation (V. Zelensky and Pope Francis – Ed.) it was noted that today Ukraine is a country where representatives of all religions coexist peacefully and feel comfortable. There are no apparent inter-confessional conflicts in the state and there is practically no speculation on the topic of faith.”

I just feel like exclaiming – what, seriously?!

Maybe the OCU and the UGCC really "coexist peacefully and feel comfortable", but in relation to the UOC, the largest confession of Ukraine, this cannot be said.

  •  Attempts to take away its own name from the UOC – is it a peaceful coexistence?
  • Is the seizure of UOC temples a peaceful coexistence?
  • Is the massacre of believers a peaceful coexistence?

These rhetorical questions can be continued, but it is better to see with your own eyes how this “peaceful and comfortable” coexistence looks like in Ukraine.

Vasily Khashchiyuk, a parishioner of the UOC church in Zadubrivka, beaten by supporters of the OCU in March 2021. Photo: facebook of the Chernivtsi-Bukovina diocese Photo: UOJ
Attack of the OCU supporters on the cross procession in Nizhyn on June 23, 2021. Photo: Gavriil Zavgorodny's Facebook page
Seizure of the church in Zabolotye on May 10, 2021. Photo: UOJ

Decoration of Sviatoslav Shevchuk

In the context of the persuasion of Pope Francis V. Zelensky to come to Ukraine, the awarding of the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics Sviatoslav Shevchuk with the Order of Merit, III degree, can also be considered. This award is timed to the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of Ukraine, and Shevchuk received the order for "significant personal contribution to state building."

Vladimir Zelensky and Sviatoslav Shevchuk. Photo: news.ugcc.ua

It is very difficult to remember where and when Sviatoslav Shevchuk distinguished himself in the field of state building and even so that he received an order for it. We can only recall his active participation in the "Revolution of Dignity" in 2013-2014, for which, apparently, he was awarded.

In general, if the predecessor of V. Zelensky as president actively intervened in the affairs of the Orthodox, then the current head of state is trying even to “saddle the Catholic horse”. True, both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew make a lot of statements about the unification of the religious structures under their control. If this happens in the near future, then there will be ample opportunities for the Ukrainian authorities to earn political points both in the Orthodox and Catholic fields. Therefore, V. Zelensky is doing everything in his power to make the Pope's visit to Ukraine feasible. The Pope's visit to Ukraine is, in his words, "oxygen that is so necessary."


First, the Ukrainian authorities are now actively promoting a religious theme. Despite the provision of the Constitution on the separation of church and state, both the President and officials of a lower rank actively participate in negotiations with religious leaders, inviting them to Ukraine. And this is going on despite the fact that a huge part of Ukrainian society has a negative attitude towards such activities.

Secondly, the current Ukrainian government interferes in religious affairs for the same reasons as the previous government. First of all, these are instructions from abroad and secondly, the desire to earn political points and divert the attention of society from failures in the economy.

Thirdly, for the sake of the visit of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew to Ukraine, the authorities are ready not only to disregard the opinion of a significant part of society, but also to take the obvious risk of exacerbating interreligious confrontation. Moreover, if the authorities are ready to go even further and make efforts to "unite" Orthodox and Catholics in Ukraine, this will be a real crime against their people.

Fourthly, history teaches us that no matter how much you step on the rake, the effect will be the same. The crushing defeat at the elections of P. Poroshenko, who made the "tomos-tour" the hub of his election campaign, taught nothing to those in power. Interference in the affairs of the Church, and even more so – persecution against it, has never led to anything good. The words of the Lord: "You shall not touch my Anointed and you shall not harm my Prophets" (Psalm 104: 15) are relevant for all time.

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