May 26, 2015, Tuesday — Dry Tinder

On May 24-25, the IX sessional meeting of the Ordinary Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church was held at the Vatican. The meeting was chaired by Pope Francis.

The meeting agenda included preparation of a draft text Instrumentum Laboris (“Guideline of Work”) and for the 16th General Assembly of the Bishops’ Synod to be held in October on the “Mission and Vocation of the Family in the Church and in the World Today.”

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, took part in the Council’s work as a member of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

During the work of this important body of the universal Church, the patriarch met with Pope Francis.

A report on the meeting on the website of Greek Catholic Religious Information Service of Ukraine advises that Pope Francis “inquired about the events in Ukraine and once again assured of his sympathy to the Ukrainian people and constant prayer for all who suffer.”

Since we also know that Pope Francis has called on numerous occasions for peace in Ukraine, it seems fair to say that the situation in Ukraine is a matter of deep concern for the present Pope.

To Avoid a Wider War

On Saturday, a rebel military commander in Lugansk, one of two rebel, Russian-speaking separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, was killed in an ambush, along with several people traveling with him in a car, including a young woman in her 20s named Anna acting as his press secretary.

The Russian television station Russia Today gave just a brief report of the incident (link):

A commander of the ‘Prizrak’ (Ghost) brigade from Lugansk Region, Aleksey Mozgovoy, has been killed along with seven other self-defence [rebel separatist pro-Russian] troops after their vehicle came under attack, said Sergey Gorenko, Deputy Prosecutor General in the People’s Republic of Lugansk. The incident happened at about 3:00 pm local time near the town of Alchevsk, about 40 km from Lugansk. According to preliminary information, the vehicle was blown up with explosives and then hit by machine-gun fire.

Here is a photo of the late rebel soldier.


Three days ago I wrote about how Pope Francis is being discussed, praised and criticized in the Church; two days ago, I reflected on Saturday’s Irish referendum on same-gender marriage, including a brief interview with Archbishop Martin of Dublin.

Today I would like to reflect briefly on the Ukrainian conflict.

I am persuaded that the conflict in Ukraine is like “dry tinder” that could erupt into a flame. If it does, it could potentially involve Moldavia, Transnistria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Baltic countries and eventually even all of Europe, and beyond.

I hope that this “dry tinder” may remain “unlit.” I hope that this potential wider conflict remains potential, not actual.

I am 100% in favor of peace in the beautiful, fruitful land of Ukraine, in favor of the cessation of all movement of armies and use of arms, in favor of the resolution of of the conflict by negotiation and dialogue.

Of course, the perennial question arises: Peace on what terms? What justice, for whom?

And here I have more questions than answers. And I realize that I do not know even the parameters of a just solution to Ukraine’s multi-faceted conflict.

All I know is that the drums of war are beating, armies are on the move, and men and women are dying, including civilians. It is estimated that some 15,000 people, including hundreds of civilians, have lost their lives during the past 15 months.

In the West, Ukraine has been much less in the news in recent weeks.

But the death Saturday of a prominent pro-Russian separatist commander, along with six or seven others (reports differ on whether there were six or seven people traveling with him), makes clear that the conflict in Ukraine is still simmering and could at any moment explode again.

There is no clarity yet about this event. There is no conclusive evidence about who killed the rebel leader.

The Lugansk press service — Mozgovoy was from Lugansk, and favored the complete separation of Lugansk from western Ukraine — attributed the attack on Mozgovoy to undefined “saboteurs” and “enemies.”

Some commenters on the internet say Mozgovoy was killed by other powerful leaders in eastern Ukraine who were irritated by his criticism of them for alleged corruption — making fortunes while the ordinary citizens are impoverished by the crisis.

But Ukrainian government officials stated that Mozgovoy was assassinated by Russian GRU special forces, citing intercepted radio communications.

This allegation makes clear the obscure nature of this event. Normally, one would not expect the Russians (Putin, the Kremlin) to send agents to assassinate a rebel military leader who wishes the eastern part of Ukraine to become part of Russia, or to become fully autonomous. He would be seen as fighting in the interest of Russia, so why kill him?

Such a scenario would seem to make sense only if there are various forces in Russia which are not in accord with Putin’s leadership. (And there seem to be such forces, which would desire to impede Putin’s policies, and weaken the rebel forces.)

The murder occurs just as late spring is drying the muddy fields in Ukraine and making military operations more possible once again.

According to some web reports, the Ukrainian government in recent weeks been bringing fresh troops up to the borders of the region in what may become an attempt to take back by force the two “breakaway” provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.

If this were to occur, it seems it might mean an end to last fall’s “Minsk II” peace accords, and possibly open the way to a wider war.

At an international summit in Minsk, Belarus, on February 11, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany (representatives of the US government were not present) sought to avoid such a wider conflict by agreeing to a package of measures to alleviate the ongoing war in the Russian-speaking “Donbass” area of Ukraine (the easternmost region, bordering on Russia, the lower region of the River Don).

The talks that led to the deal, overseen by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), were organized in response to the collapse of the Minsk 1 Protocol ceasefire in January-February 2015. The new package of measures was intended to revive the Protocol, which had been signed on September 5, 2014.

The failure of Minsk 2 might force Russia’s hand.

The Russians — Putin, and his advisors — would then be faced with a choice:

(1) wash their hands of the rebel forces, and allow them to be defeated (though if they would be defeated is still not clear); but this would expose Putin to criticism on his right in Russia that he had “betrayed Donbass,” and some suggest that it might even lead to Putin’s overthrow by Russians more nationalist than he is; or

(2) send in direct Russian support for the rebels, so that they are not immediately defeated; but this decision which would be denounced in the West as a direct Russian aggression against Ukraine, and it might lead to a military response from NATO and the US against Russia, widening the war.

So the situation in these days of late May, 2015, remains very tense and dangerous.

And now more people are dead.

Note: For those who would like to travel with us on pilgrimage:

(1) In mid-July 2015, we will travel with a small group of Inside the Vatican readers on our annual “Urbi et Orbi” pilgrimage to Russia, Turkey and the Vatican, to visit eastern Orthodox leaders, shrines and monasteries, and to talk with Vatican officials about ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox;

(2) On December 8, 2015, and again on November 20, 2016, we will be gathering in Rome to be present when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door to begin his Special Jubilee of Mercy, and when he closes the door to end the Jubilee Year. If you would like to join us on one or more of these pilgrimages, email now for more information…

We also often travel to Norcia.

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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