Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, who is currently on a trip to Ukraine, visited the martyred cities of Irpin and Bucha and met with wounded soldiersHe took part in the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, held in Przemyśl, Poland. From there, he crossed the border, met with wounded Ukrainian soldiers, celebrated mass at the end of the Pan-Ukrainian pilgrimage of Our Lady of Berdychiv and then met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
From the outset, the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences understood the situation in Ukraine, warning of dramatic tensions in an appeal to Europe issued by the CCEE presidency on 21 January 2022, one month after the start of Russian aggression (https://www.dropbox.com/s/75vpco2j8h0dxst/Appeal%20for%20Ukraine%20EN.pdf?dl=0). The European episcopates then joined in a network of solidarity to help the victims of the war. The presence of the CCEE President on Ukrainian territory is meant to be a concrete sign of his closeness, while hopes for peace still seem far away
Speaking to Vatican News, Archbishop Grušas noted that “Lithuanians have a very close, authentic view of the situation. We have survived communism, and the methods we see here in Ukraine are very similar to those used at the end of the Second World War. It starts with the deportation of people. I was struck by the number of Ukrainians deported to Russia and all the way to Siberia. There were people deported there after the Second World War. We must not forget this historical lesson”.
The CCEE president also explained that “as the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences, we participate in a working group that studies and responds to various challenges related to the refugee situation, we also try to organise and provide pastoral care for refugees. Priests also seek ways to serve those outside their Church, because it is not only Catholics, there are many Orthodox who also seek help to heal internally from traumas caused by very difficult experiences. Therefore, we Lithuanians, but also the whole of Europe, are trying to respond to this situation, all the Bishops’ Conferences are aware of their responsibility towards the people who have arrived in the territories under their pastoral care
The meeting with Council President Shmyhal
On 18 July, Archbishop Grušas, at the initiative of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, met with Ukrainian Council President Denys Shmyhal. He thanked the people of Lithuania and Lithuanian Catholics for their support for Ukraine, as well as highlighting the role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in serving the people at war. He said that it was important for Catholics in Europe and around the world to know the truth about what is happening in Ukraine
For his part, Archbishop Grušas assured that the Catholics of Europe will pray for Ukraine. This prayer unites all the bishops of the world, because the community includes not only Catholics from the European Union, but also from other countries, especially post-Soviet countries.
“Prayer, on the one hand, is a manifestation of solidarity and, on the other, is one of the ways to support and awaken the sensitivity of Catholics in Europe to the tragedy that is happening on the territory of Ukraine,” stated the President of the European bishops.
During the meeting, the reception and support of displaced persons and the humanitarian aid provided by the Church were also discussed. An agreement was also signed between Caritas Lithuania, Caritas Ukraine (of the Latin Rite Catholic Church) and Caritas-Spes (of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church).
The dialogue also addressed the challenges of the coming autumn-winter, and the joint work required to ensure that Pope Francis will be able to visit Ukraine.
Meeting with the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
On 15 July, speaking at the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the CCEE president recalled the drama of deportation to Siberia, which still happens today as it did after World War II. “The horrors of being under the cross,” he said, “continue to be known in today’s world. It is precisely in the most difficult times that we Christians are called to be signs of hope, having been given the promise of the Resurrection”
Archbishop Grušas emphasised that “as a Lithuanian, I really understand the importance of the fight for freedom. Today, the free world looks to Ukraine as a place of struggle for freedom and for the defence of democratic values. Today, we see a nation made up of a people who give their lives, because it is better to die than to live in captivity and with dignity trampled underfoot”.
The CCEE president also highlighted the “unseen spiritual battles” raging behind this war, starting with the “war against truth in its various forms”, including “the ideology of russkiy mir with consistent disregard for the truth through the Russian media”
But it also consists of structures of sin that are not exclusive to Russia and Ukraine, but are found “in every society”, and are “corruption, disrespect for human life including widespread abortion practices, greed for money and power“.
“We are all guilty of contributing to the absence of peace in the world,” Archbishop Grušas said, “and as bishops we must continue to call for penance and renewal in every society in Europe and throughout the world”.
A visit to the Berdychiv shrine
In Berdychiv there is a Marian icon, crowned more than 250 years ago, and the six-day pilgrimage to the shrine has been organised since 1992 and sees the participation of many Ukrainians.
Archbishop Grušas celebrated the Mass at the end of the pilgrimage on 17 July. In his homily, the CCEE president reminded the faithful to participate this year “in a special way because your Church is celebrating the Year of the Cross, but also your nation has experienced the suffering of a war of aggression with the many sufferings and atrocities that war brings – the dead, war crimes, and the millions who have been forced to leave their homes”.
The archbishop said he was familiar with the drama of separated families, because his parents were also separated for 17 years after World War II, not knowing for 12 years whether they had survived.
“Today – the Archbishop concluded – as we gather at the feet of our mother, we entrust our lives and all of Ukraine to Our Lady of Berdychiv, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. With the hope of the prophets and the hope of the fulfilment of God’s promises, we pray for God’s mercy and peace”.
Photo: Oleksandr Savranskyi