Ukrainian Catholic leader urges tougher line from Pope on Russia

(Photo: REUTERS / Baz Ratner)Fighters with the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic army ride on top of an armoured personnel carrier in the town of Debaltseve February 23, 2015. The German government is very concerned that there is still no comprehensive ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, more than a week after it should have taken effect, and urged Moscow anew on Monday to use its influence over pro-Russian separatists.

The head of Ukraine's Greek Catholic church has urged a tougher line on Russian aggression in his country both from Pope Francis and the international community.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said on Feb. 23 that a Feb. 4 statement from Francis, in which he called the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists "fratricidal," was "particularly painful for all the people in Ukraine."

Shevchuk noted that a recent line from the Pope about fighting in eastern Ukraine was reminiscent of the effect of Soviet "propaganda," the Catholic publication Crux on Feb. 23.

The Greek Catholic leader from the conflict-wracked country said the Pope's line had rankled Ukrainians who see the violence on the Crimean peninsula not as a civil conflict, but an act of foreign aggression by Russia.

Shevchuk expressed regret that Francis did not specifically point a finger at Russia in his Feb. 20 remarks to a group of visiting Ukrainian bishops, instead referring only to a "situation of grave conflict."

In asking for prayers for the victims in Ukraine, many of whom are civilians, and for the families, the Pope said "let us pray the Lord so that this horrible fratricide violence may cease as soon as possible."

The reference to this "fratricide violence" is what is believed to have rankled many Ukrainians who see the conflict as induced by Russian intervention.

"As sons, we always expect more from the Holy Father," Shevchuk said, while adding that "we respect his freedom to use the words that will help him mediate in the peace process."

Shevchuk's remarks came at the end of a visit Ukraine's Greek Catholic bishops to Rome that Catholic prelates are required to make every five years.

He said he discussed the situation in Ukraine with the Pope, and believes Francis may soon deliver an important "action" to express his solidarity.

The roughly 6 million strong Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine is the largest of the 22 Eastern churches in communion with the Holy See in Rome.

In a Rome press conference, the Ukrainian prelate pleaded with the international community not to remain indifferent to the "undeclared and unexpected" war in his country.

This conflict, said Shevchuk, is the result of what he called a foreign invasion.

The United Nations says that more than 5,665 people are believed to have died in the fighting.

A peace plan envisioning a ceasefire and pullback of heavy weapons was signed in mid-February, but there are constant reports of violations.

"Indifference kills," said Shevchuk. "I ask you not to be indifferent, because what's going on in Ukraine isn't a local conflict," he said.

"We live in a globalized world. This war that is today being fought in Ukraine, will sooner or later affect every country."

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