Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, addresses a crowd in Toronto May 2. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Archbishop says Ukraine’s struggle is for dignity

  • May 6, 2014

TORONTO - Amid the violence and turmoil plaguing Ukraine, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said one must remember to love thy neighbour.

“As I bring you greetings from a country and a people who are caught, of no fault of their own, in a life-and-death struggle for their own future I want to highlight the importance of a faith perspective amid the leadership class,” said Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. “You should love your neighbour as you love yourself. There is no greater commandment than this.”

Shevchuk spoke on May 2 at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College to more than 260 people, the majority from the Ukrainian community. Keeping in mind the strong emotional ties of the crowd to Ukraine, which is battling a pro-Russian insurgency after the fall of its previous pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, Shevchuk stressed this point of loving one’s neighbour by stating that this means loving the Russians who’ve become the antagonists of the tragic story playing out in their homeland.

“We want everyone to know that God is with us and for that reason the Church will stand with the people,” he said. “But we also want them to understand that God loves the armies and citizens of Russia as well. Who could believe in a God that only loves one side?”

Shevchuk said the conflict, which began last November when protesters seeking closer ties to Europe than Russia forced Yanukovych out, may have started over economical implications of joining the European Union but has since evolved into a struggle for human dignity.

“The media of course makes endless references to the association agreement with the European Union,” he said. “But as the government responded with brutality the protest became much more than the voicing of the pro-European stance. They turned into a national movement to restore human dignity.

“Human dignity demands from us respect for every human being, every nation, every ethnicity and religious tradition; these are children of God we are talking about.”

Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins, who attended the evening event hosted by the Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky Institute, sees this Christian virtue of loving one another as a solution to the conflict.

“He brings a message of peace and holiness in the midst of a terrible and violent and difficult situation,” said Collins. “Violence against violence is not good and the way of our Christian faith is to respond to those things with a spirit of love and that is what the patriarch is talking about. It is the way, the way of the cross, which will lead to a solution.”

To respect this commandment of God while continuing to “build a future rather than just sit and wait for it to arrive,” education must remain a focus in Ukraine and abroad, Shevchuk said.

“Civilized societies demand education; it is not an option but rather a necessity,” he said. “It is imperative that we continue to build not only on churches, temples, synagogues in which to worship the world but also cathedrals of learning in which we encourage human minds to strain towards the solution.”

Oksana Loza, a first-generation Ukrainian Canadian, also sees education as essential to dismantling the hatred which has fueled violence in Ukraine.

“We are still so naive that even though history has repeated itself ... I do not think people believe how these lives (of the Ukrainians) have been twisted,” she said. “Evil does exist today.”

Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development, agrees with Loza and Shevchuk about the importance of education as a solution to the crisis in Ukraine. While the federal government continues to uphold sanctions against Russia and provide military support for Ukraine, Kenney is calling on Canadians to send their support to Ukraine’s educational institutions.

“We will continue to do everything that we can in terms of resources to support the Ukrainian people during this time of real threat to their sovereignty,” said Kenney.

“One thing I will suggest to Catholics is to consider supporting one of the single most important institutions in civil society in Ukraine which is the Catholic University of Ukraine. I think that is one of the best things that people can do.”

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