The protests in an increasing number of public squares across Ukraine are more about a growing people’s movement than plain political expression, says a Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop.
While the media is
reporting that the ongoing protests are motivated by the Ukrainian
government’s refusal to sign an agreement that would have steered
Ukraine towards Europe, Bishop Borys Gudziak says the story “has a much
broader context and a much deeper quality.”
The Maidan movement
is a reaction against the general atmosphere of fear and intimidation in
Ukraine and against wanton corruption in the country, he said. It is a
movement of principle and dignity, with spiritual expression.
people are morally exhausted,” he told Vatican Radio. “So… what began
as a Euro-Maidan movement…is really now a Maidan of dignity, a Maidan of
citizens recognizing something that is rather transcendental and that
is fundamentally spiritual— that every person is created in dignity in
the image and likeness of God.”
Gudziak heads the Ukrainian Greek Catholic eparchy of France, Belgium
and Luxembourg. He also serves as president of the Ukrainian Catholic
University in Lviv.
“After 20-odd years of independence, Ukraine
is maybe halfway on the pilgrimage from the land of captivity to the
promised land,” he said, as many aspects of the former totalitarian
regime are only slowly being pushed aside. “Dropping the cloak of
slavery is not easy.”
Protest leaders include many from the Ukrainian middle class; about two-thirds of protesters have university degrees, he said.
clergy from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the various Orthodox
churches, the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant communities, as well
as Jewish and Muslim clerics, have joined protesters seeking to
minister to their spiritual needs.
“Basically, the churches have come to where the people have asked them to be,” said the bishop.
religious presence in the main Independence Square in Kiev is obvious.
Acting in accord, the churches hold ecumenical prayer on Sundays at
noon. And throughout the night, when fear of violence is greatest,
prayer is led from the main stage on the hour every hour, said the
bishop. Religious services are held and “ecclesial tents” are set up in
the square, where people can pray quietly before an icon, access the
sacrament of confession and spiritual guidance.
following the basic insight expressed by Pope Francis, is trying to make
sure that the pastors have the smell of the sheep,” he stated.
early January, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture sent a letter to the
Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude
Sviatoslav Shevchuk, stating that the Church’s involvement in the
protest could lead to a revocation of its legal status.
“That is a very serious threat expressed to a Church that for much of the 20th century, by the powers that be, was outlawed,” Bishop Gudziak said .
1945 to 1989, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was the biggest
illegal Church in the world and the biggest body of resistance in the
Soviet Union, he stated. It did not collaborate with the regime; as a
result, by 1945, all of its bishops were imprisoned.
its free and dignified stance in the Soviet times, it emerged into the
period of Ukrainian independence with unique moral authority,” he
explained. Today, the Church exerts a very big influence on issues of
freedom, dignity, justice, and equality before the law.
“The Church speaks about these principles because they are the principles of our Saviour,” Bishop Gudziak said.
commented on how numerous protesters are being beaten and harassed and
how many students of the Ukrainian Catholic University have been
intimidated by calls from the police and the secret service.
must realize that in a country where so many people were killed, so
many people were sent to Siberia, so many people were spied on, a call
from the secret service to the students' personal cell phone is a very
invasive action that creates great trepidation and insecurity,” he said.
“The fear in Ukraine is only skin deep,” he continued, “and you
scratch the surface and it pops out. Because the system killed
systematically, people are afraid of the system. This movement of the
Maidan is actually a response to this fear.”
The bishop called
for prayers for peace and for conversion in Ukraine. He also urged
people to become informed about the “real-life story” that is developing
there, to understand the importance of Ukraine in Europe’s geopolitics.
He called for people to express their solidarity with the Ukrainian
protesters by writing letters and appealing to political leaders.
“This experience of the 20th
century, in which people of faith and other people of good will stood
up to the greatest human challenge, the challenge of totalitarianism,
this school of faith has much to offer to western Europe and to the
broader international and ecclesial community,” he said.
think Ukraine and the Church in Ukraine has a great responsibility to
share this story,” he concluded. “Today, this Church is growing and I am
convinced that it has a vocation to help the universal Church in ways
that are still unknown.”