This is a full transcript, in the original English, of my interview with His Beatitude Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The news reports, in Portuguese, can be found here and here.
Esta é uma transcrição integral, no inglês original, da minha entrevista a Sua Beatitude o Arcebispo-maior Sviatoslav Shevchuk, da Igreja Greco-Católica da Ucrânia. As reportagens podem ser vistas aqui e aqui.
You are in Portugal to discuss the pastoral care of Eastern Catholic migrants in Western countries. What are the main challenges?
This is the first meeting of Eastern Catholic Bishops of Europe here in Portugal.
We have not only Ukrainian Catholic Bishops, but bishops of the Byzantine Rite from Hungary, Romania, from Slovakia, Czech Republic. But also we have with us the Melkite Patriarch, from Syria.
We also have another family of Eastern Rite bishops, the Maronites.
So for us it is very important to meet in Portugal and the main issue that we will discuss is the pastoral care of migrants who belong to Eastern Catholic Churches.
Myself, as head of the UGCC, I am responsible for the Ukrainians not only in Ukraine, but also for Ukrainian Greek Catholics Worldwide. In Europe, in many countries, we have our structures, our dioceses, eparchies and metropolises, but there are many countries such as Portugal where we have our faithful, we have our priests, but we don't have our structure.
The main concern of our church is how can we help Roman Catholic Bishops who are responsible for the Eastern Rite faithful living in their territories, to be good pastors, to give an adequate pastoral care to those who belong not to the Latin tradition but to other Eastern Catholic traditions.
That question is very interesting and important, because the main message we would like to convey to our brethren Catholic Bishops in Europe is that pastoral care to the migrants from the Eastern Catholic Church can be expressed in the phrase “Integration, but not assimilation”.
We are very open to help our people to be well integrated, not only in society, but in the local church, because this is a way that we can share the richness of our Eastern Catholic liturgy, piety and worship, as well.
The man who greeted me at the airport told me today that many people would call us workers who are coming to look for a job, but we are really missionaries, because we are trying to share our Christian identity. So integration is very important, but not assimilation, because assimilation means to lose your own tradition, your own richness, to lose everything that you have to share with others.
For many years I have heard Eastern Catholics complain about their level of autonomy within the Catholic Church and their direct responsibility for diaspora communities. For example, until recently you could not ordain married clergy outside of your ancestral territories. That has changed, are there other changes you are hoping for?
I would like to stress not so much autonomy, but cooperation and communion.
I hope that this meeting will be a possibility to meet those responsible for the pastoral care of migrants from many different Roman Catholic Bishops Conferences in Europe, so as to exchange ideas.
The local Roman Catholic Bishop has his responsibility, but the mother Eastern Catholic Church has its own responsibility as well. How can we cooperate? How can we help each other to be good pastors, good fathers to migrants in Europe?
But for example the naming of bishops, how does that work? Are you responsible for naming bishops in the USA, for example, or in Western Europe? Or does that depend on Rome?
Well, if we have to elect a bishop for the Ukrainian Diaspora, normally we will do that during the synod of our bishops. At the synod we elect new bishops.
For the diaspora we are supposed to elect three candidates, and present them to the Holy Father and he has his authority to choose one among those three, who according to his vision would be the best for those responsibilities.
So it is not the Holy Father directly who appoints a bishop for the Eastern Catholic Diocese outside of his mother land, that election is done during the session of the bishops synod, because the synod – as a collegial body – is a way of rule in the Eastern Catholic churches “sui iuris”. And then we would present those candidates to the decision of the Holy Father.
And is that a decision you are comfortable with, or would you like to be able to name them directly?
Until now we are comfortable, because the election of a new bishop is not only an internal issue, a private issue. A new bishop is a bishop for the whole Catholic Church. And it is how we can be not only in a dialogue, sharing information, but in communion with the Holy Father.
And for the Holy Father it is also very important to have the possibility to listen to the decisions of the different synods, of the different Eastern Catholic Churches “sui iuris”.
You became Patriarch under Pope Benedict, but you knew Pope Francis well from your time in Argentina. He was very close to the Greek Catholic community in Argentina. From your point of view, has his knowledge and his love for the Eastern Catholic tradition played a role in his papacy?
I think so.
In Argentina he was an ordinary bishop for the Eastern Catholics who did not have their own ecclesiastical structure, so he was responsible for the pastoral care of the Eastern Catholics in Argentina.
The Ukrainian Catholic eparchy in Argentina is a part of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, so he was my direct superior. And I had a chance to meet with him many times, to convey to him the situation in the Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide, so he knows pretty well our spirituality and our identity. Even more, the priest who was his spiritual director in the Salesian school in Buenos Aires was Ukrainian, so that is why the Holy Father would normally greet the Ukrainian bishops in Ukrainian.
But I think that the vision of the Universal Church, form the point of view of Latin America, brings some new horizons and perspectives, even for the Eastern Catholics in Europe.
During his speech, Patriarch Gregory III Laham referred to you as a Patriarch. I know that this is an issue which has a lot to do with Russia. Many Ukrainian Catholics feel that they are stuck in the middle of the relationship between Rome and Moscow. What are your feelings on this?
We are trying to be ourselves.
The patriarchate is a normal, organic stage of the development of an Eastern Catholic Church and we have reached that stage of development. Our people are praying for the Patriarchate. In the relations with the Holy Father, we are trying to be good Catholics, considering our own tradition, but in full communion with the successor of Peter, because we believe that is the image of the Church in the first Millennium, and that is our heritage of the baptism of Kiev-Rus.
Of course our Orthodox brethren have a different ecclesiology. Their way to understand the role of the successor of Peter is pretty different. Often they would deny any form of supremacy of the Pope in the Universal Church.
But nevertheless, being ourselves, we are trying to testify, to reveal that reality of the undivided Church of the first Millennium.
Are you worried that the UGCC might be almost sacrificed in favour of better relations with Moscow?
Not at all. But we are trying to be ourselves, and to speak out on behalf of our people, and if we feel that not everything is correctly interpreted, we are trying to testify to the reality in our country today.
When do you hope there might be peace in Ukraine?
We pray for peace. We work for peace. We defend peace. And I think that God will bless our nation and people with his heavenly blessing, and that blessing will bring us peace.