Wednesday, April 24, 2019
“The Holy Father told me: ‘If we do some charitable work, it must be done so that no one may conclude that it is done only for Catholics, that we are making a gesture of proselytism: it must be done in an absolutely undifferentiated manner, so that the Ukrainians sense that we love them, all of them.”—Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Vatican’s Nuncio to Ukraine, in an interview with a Ukrainian radio station, Radio Maria, first published on April 19 (link)
Summary Note: Our coverage of the situation in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and the region, is rooted in a fundamental hope: that wounds from the past, including from the Communist time, may be healed, and that the Christian communities throughout the region may flourish, collaborate, come into closer union, and together contribute to a hoped-for future of peace, justice and prosperity in these very beautiful countries.
But the situation is very fluid, and in many ways dangerous.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has just announced that residents of two eastern provinces of Ukraine may apply for Russian citizenship in a new, accelerated process. (link)
As Voice of America writes today: “Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree simplifying the procedure for people living in parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists to obtain Russian citizenship, drawing a swift and angry response from Kyiv and criticism from the West. Shortly after Putin’s decree was published on the Kremlin website on April 24, Ukraine’s foreign minister called it ‘aggression and interference’ in Kyiv’s affairs and a Western diplomat said it was a ‘highly provocative step’ that would undermine the situation in the war-ravaged region known as the Donbas. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said on Twitter that Russia’s decree is ‘absurd and destabilizing’ and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
The political situation in Ukraine remains complex and problematic despite the recent election of a new President, Volodymyr Zelensky. With nearly all ballots counted on April 22, Zelensky had more than 73%. Incumbent Petro Poroshenko trailed far behind with 24%. Russia says it wants Zelensky to show “sound judgement,” “honesty” and “pragmatism” so that relations with Ukraine can improve. Poroshenko told voters that Zelensky, 41, is “too inexperienced” to stand up to Russia effectively. Zelensky, a political novice, is best known for starring in a satirical television series Servant of the People, in which his character accidentally becomes Ukrainian president.(!)
As BBC summed up: “Zelensky has got about a month before the inauguration. Then the comedian-turned-president will be faced with a complex in-tray that includes a simmering war with Russian-backed rebels in the east.” (link)
In this context, we publish the interesting interview below with the Pope’s ambassador to Ukraine, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, an old friend.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24, 2019
Interview with the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Msgr. Claudio Gugerotti.
Radio Maria: Easter is the victory of life over death. I once had a conversation with a very famous Polish Jesuit, Father Joseph Avgustyn, author of many books, and when I asked him what death he saw in Ukraine, what Ukraine should rise from, he replied directly: “I see that in 70 years of communism a lot of people have lost their dignity as human persons.” He spoke of the rebirth of a feeling of human dignity. You have already been in Ukraine for four years: What should our people rise from? From what death?
The Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti. He has organized aid to many refugees and displaced persons in eastern Ukraine during the past 5 years
Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti: I really like this expression of the Jesuit, although I tend to never want to limit the history of Ukrainians to communism alone.
As difficult as it was, the Ukrainian people suffered a lot even earlier. It is not that the Tsars were always very benevolent, especially towards Catholics. And for centuries the fortunes of this people have often been painful and tragic also from the political point of view.
We can speak about the beauty of the earth that flourishes, as now, at Easter, but we must also remember a very hard, very difficult, very laborious reality. And it is the fact that people were tied to the earth, tied to the earth, bound to the earth. What was called being enslaved to the earth.
This is an ancient thing. And so the earth has, yes, the meaning of fertility, but it is also the symbol of the person flattened on the earth, compelled to lie upon the earth.
So the resurrection is, first of all, getting up.
And this corresponds well to the concept of dignity.
It is interesting that from the philological point of view the word “humility” derives precisely from being attached to the earth (humus). And therefore this standing up is precisely the sign of a rediscovered one’s filial relationship, one’s sonship, to God.
Perhaps it has been my “forma mentis” [“form of mind,” that is, “way of looking at things”] for many years now; but I cannot conceive of a dignity that does not come from a God who takes me by the hand and puts me back on my feet.
I find it very hard to believe in a dignity that derives from the fact that the person alone, one his own, is able to get up.
Perhaps the communist world had the illusion of thinking that the mass of men could help individuals to stand up, but an anonymous entity cannot become a personal entity. And we don’t need masses rising up. We need people who stand up, one by one, each with his own pace and each with his own position.
And the second thought that comes to me, connected to this, is that when the person stands up, he already has the strength to look into the eyes of the person in front of him. This is why the second aspect of dignity, which is victory over fear, is very important for Ukraine.
I still feel so much fear around: fear of oneself, above all. Alcohol is often linked to this fear. It is the attempt to forget fear. It is the theatrical manifestation of a courage that one does not have. You need a chemical injection to finally feel free.
He is like a person who lived in the jungle. How can you not be afraid of ferocious animals? A fear that manifests itself, as I said, is that of understanding one another: one’s feelings, calling them by name, not hiding them, not living continually in the need to hide one’s problems from the other.
Because I don’t believe in a dignity that is the fruit of a lie. I believe in a dignity like the one Jesus gave us, which is a dignity of sinners, but of saved sinners, sinners who have the courage to show their own fragility, because they know, once again, that His Hand will make them stand up.
And then everything is possible: to seek justice, even in this world where there is less and less justice, where everything seems to depend on the few who are above justice, and who disguise themselves using justice as a carnival mask, to show that they are the arbiters of justice: “justice comes from my pockets,” “justice comes from my immense bank accounts.”
And what remains for someone who has neither full pockets nor large bank accounts? The slavery of a lack of freedom. And so we return to the starting point.
The victory over fear is for me also the hope of young people, so that they do not run away from Ukraine to look for a world that is safer that does not exist. Let them not one day return with the further disappointment of having lost a chance to build their lives abroad. Of course the passages, the movements of the peoples are a natural phenomenon, but for me Easter is that the young people, if they leave, leave to hope, not to despair.
Radio Maria: Your Excellency, because you talk to so many people and have been practically in every corner of Ukraine, tell me, please, what is the most frequent emotion in the eyes of Ukrainians now, almost in the 6th year of war?
Archbishop Gugerotti: What do I see in the eyes of people? What seems clearer to me is that I see different things in different places in Ukraine.
I have been many times in the Donbass, the war zone, for the assignment that the Holy Father has entrusted to me to help the local people with the offers he has collected.
There I saw grief, mourning.
I saw the grief that comes not only from physical suffering.
I remember the soldiers’ questions on the line separating the two areas in Donbass. Many asked me: “Father, but why this war?”
Yes, above all, I see this almost desperate question.
This question can be surrounded by rhetorical phrases, high-sounding expressions. But I saw this question as a naked question. Not a question that can be calmed with some expression already prepared.
Do you think I could respond with some easy formula, saying “It it the fault of this person” or “It is the fault of that person” and people would have been satisfied? Did they expect an answer of historical interpretation? Or was there not, rather, an existential question? How is it possible that I find myself in this world of hatred? And this world of hatred had many names.
But it is not that giving one more name to hatred may help to overcome it.
There I saw a question, the need for a desperate hope. It is the time of the Passion. It is the Holy Week lived by the flesh. The examples could be many. My meetings with the simplest people of our ecclesial communities. I always try to stay with them for a long time after Mass. And meet them one by one, because all together you cannot meet, too much fear, too many ears that listen.
And for me, in this stubborn hope, I see the pain of this people, but I also see the expectation of a coming resurrection. You don’t want to rise again when you don’t understand what your own misery is. If you are not dead, do not rise again.
So, the first expression and impression could be to say “I saw dead people.” But it’s not true. I saw dead people who wanted to rise again.
And this is called hope.
Although it is not a hope that dances, a hope that sings.
And then other parts of Ukraine where we try to forget this reality: in our Kyiv, for example. Apparently the city lives normally. They always ask me when the Italians come to see me: “Is it dangerous in Kyiv?” I say, “No, the war is too far away.”
Then, I often see the West, where many of our faithful belonging to the Catholic Church are located. And there I still feel a strong community experience. I remember with great impression, for example, my visit to Kamyanets-Podilskiy. A beautiful city, full of different cultures in history, where in the church you can see prayer instruments from the local mosque.
And there I see a very simple society, but one that still feels like a family and that has an essential dimension of this familiarity in faith. And this moved me a lot. Because there is no juxtaposition of cultures as is found in many parts of Ukraine.
Another experience, and then I close because we could talk long, is Odessa. A city of people with well-oiled brains, well used to work. It may perhaps be the traditional co-presence with the Jews, but there is a light of cunning, a sharp humor in the eyes, perhaps because it is a port, perhaps because so many nations have passed, very different peoples have managed to live together there. But there I felt a very dynamic life. And, despite the difficulties, even a small model for the rest of Ukraine, to understand how good it is to be different and live together. This is just my impression.
Radio Maria: Your Excellency, in 2016, as part of your active and direct mission, the “Pope for Ukraine” initiative began to work in Ukraine. In 2018 there was a final conference in which the Prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development was present, Cardinal Peter Turkson. Does Pope desire to continue that initiative? Once when you spoke on this issue, you said that you saw an interest in the Pope’s eyes for this idea, but that a concrete choice was missing. How should the Pope’s initiative for Ukraine continue? During this initiative, 16 million euros were donated. A portion of this sum was donated from the personal funds of Pope Francis. Please share your experience of the conversation with the Pope during the time this initiative worked and if he already has some model to continue this initiative.
Archbishop Gugerotti: Look, for me this posting has been fascinating and challenging. Because when the Pope told me that he would send me to Ukraine, there was something that he wanted to do in some concrete way already. He had very clear the idea that the diplomatic mediation of the Holy See in Ukraine would not be requested, and that even particular political interventions would not be productive in this country…
And I understood that the Pope, having very clear this aspect, that, that is, in Ukraine the more strictly diplomatic dimension of the Holy See would have been rather marginal; he wanted to make a gesture that said his love for Ukrainians beyond “official” politics.
The Holy Father told me: ‘If we do some charitable work, it must be done so that no one may conclude that it is done only for Catholics, that we are making a gesture of proselytism: it must be done in an absolutely undifferentiated manner, so that the Ukrainians sense that we love them, all of them.”
And this was his policy.
In the midst of so many contributing aid, some very self-interested — the help of people who had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve for themselves by helping Ukraine — the Pope wanted to express an ecumenical gesture in the true sense of the word.
That is, a gesture for everyone: believers, non-believers, Catholics, non-Catholics… a sign of fraternity through the unity of need.
I have no recollection in my knowledge of life in the Vatican of such strong help given to a country, unless it goes to the early days of the Soviet regime.
Of course, the help of the Holy See is present in all cases, but with much more moderate, modest figures.
The Pope wanted to collect the money in all the European parishes to show that Europeanism or the love of Europe for Ukraine is not rhetoric, but also starts from the pocket of Catholics, especially the most humble.
In all of Europe, as a sign of a fraternity lived without ulterior motives.
As a will to say: “We are there and we are close to each other.”
This was the Pope’s policy.
Here, after this great operation, very difficult, and for which I thank the collaboration of all those who helped and organized it on the spot, even in the Catholic Church; I know that in the mind of the Pope and in his heart there might be perhaps the desire for a more modest cost, but highly symbolic gesture.
Especially for the most innocent victims.
Now what’s going on in his head I don’t know. But I know he is constantly thinking about it. Because every time we see each other, there is this anxiety to see if something moves. See if we Catholics of Ukraine are signs of hope in this direction, this is something that really, almost, becomes almost a constant concern for him.
So that no one can say: in that tragic moment for the country, we did what was needed for us, we carried out our politics, but rather that Ukraine may feel that it is truly loved by the Catholic Church.
Radio Maria: I still have a question about the Catholic Church here in Ukraine. You have just said this sentence that the Catholic, Roman or Greek-Catholic Church can be a sign of hope for society. Therefore, the Catholic Church is already now a sign of hope like that, and, according to you, we, as Church, as Catholics, what can we give to our society that lives what lives?
Archbishop Gugerotti: I think so. I believe that the Catholic Church is a small flock, but passionate. Not a foreigner; not even, obviously, too much involved in political matters. I feel this strongly and I am very proud of this.
The step ahead is to have more imagination. We are full of congregations, full of communities that have specialized in the most varied fields of charity.
As society and politics evolve and stop thinking that the center of everything is the state, as it was in the previous system, and therefore, revitalize the sense of subsidiarity, we must not find ourselves distracted at that moment to think to our affairs without being present exactly with what we can offer.
The social experience of the Catholic Church is perhaps unique in the world: it is time to put it into practice at most, to summon all the various components of the Catholic Church, and to say: “Gentlemen, now you need your intervention.” In school, in hospitals, in work, in the animation of young people.
We have changed the world. Will we not be able to help change Ukraine too? What I ask of the Lord at this Easter is that we never in the future say: “Lord, you have passed, and we did not hear you because we slept.”
Radio Maria: And in conclusion, I want to ask you two short questions, but not trivial, because they are the foundation for society, on the one hand, and for the other for the Church.
First of all, in your opinion, is Ukraine now moving towards better quality changes?
And the second question: when I asked the Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic bishops what is lacking now in the church in Ukraine, they said: we lack priests. His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk said that already about 50 priests are lacking in Kyiv. The Roman Catholic bishops said that in every diocese there are 5 to 20 priests lacking. However, not only priests are lacking, but also bishops. Tell me, can we expect new bishops to appear in the Ukrainian Catholic church already this year?
Archbishop Gugerotti: I start from the last one. We will receive something, but this depends on the Pope. Personally, I am very convinced above all of the role of the bishops. You know, the mentality has changed a lot over the years. And we need to understand the generations in their change. And also among the bishops we need both those who bring the wisdom and the tragic experience of past times, and those who feel the urgency of the current emergencies.
However, for me neither priests nor bishops are the top priority. The priority is to value the wonderful lay people we have and who we still consider in a somewhat feudal way.
The laity are many and present. And our Church is proud of this fidelity, even of many young people.
Of course the priests are needed, of course they serve the bishops. But it is absolutely not necessary for priests and bishops to be everywhere. They serve to leave places for those who are active members and priests according to baptism, as the Second Vatican Council has so insisted. The baptized lay people.
And here there is much to do.
So I come to your first question. I see the changes. But I am impatient by nature. For this, I am not yet fully satisfied. I want more, and I am convinced that many Catholics in Ukraine want more.
Of course, it is very important that they have their churches, their structures (think of the importance of your Radio); but the fundamental thing, in my opinion, is that the whole community feels involved in this change. We are not a church made up of gurus, on the one hand, and poor wretches trying to learn the abc’s of the faith, on the other. And if we think so, then we must understand that we have not understood.
So, very well what you do, but a long way to go to do better and do it together. So that it does not happen as in Western Europe, that when we understood this, only a few had remained in the church.
(from Radio Maria Ukraina, 19 April 2019)
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