Major Archbishop Shevchuk explained the need for pastoral care, as the nation's number of priests continues to dwinde.
February 24 will mark an entire year since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began, with predictions indicating that it may not end for years to come. As the war enters its second year, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is calling attention to the trauma sustained by so many Ukrainians, which the primate suggests requires pastoral consolation.
Major Archbishop Shevchuk spoke at a recent online conference organized by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), expressing the need for priests to identify and tend to the psychological and physical problems stemming from wartime trauma:
“From the Church people expected food, clothes, but also a word of hope. Pastoral care for the people is our number one mission, especially healing the wounds of the people. Almost 80% of Ukrainians need some help to overcome their traumas, psychological, physical, and others. Our task as a Church is to help heal the wounds of our nation,” the major archbishop said.
He noted that while Western nations may consider these problems to be more suited to clinical professionals, Ukrainians tend to mistrust psychologists. He pointed to the Soviet Union’s use of clinical psychologists to identify and repress those who would speak out against their regime. The major archbishop said that instead, “When people have a problem, they go to a priest first.”
A major hurdle to bringing Ukrainians pastoral care, however, is the dwindling number of priests available in the war-torn nation. Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, also present for the conference, described the few remaining priests on the front lines as “depressed, more tired.”
It was also noted that there are some areas of Ukraine that have no active priests at all. Regions such as occupied Donetsk, occupied Luhansk, and parts of the Zaporizhzhia region, a combined area larger than Croatia, have been unable to retain a single priest as Russian forces continue to make an effort to dispel or detain the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s clerics.
These include two high profile arrests of UGCC priests, Father Ivan Levytsky and Father Bohdan Heleta, in November 2022. Major Archbishop Shevchuk told the conference that they have been unable to secure their release despite continuous efforts to see them freed. The primate expressed his fears that the two men are being tortured.
He also expressed his gratitude to the generous aid provided by organizations from around the world, with much of the $10 million they have received coming from ACN. Major Archbishop Shevchuk highlighted over 200 projects that have helped upwards of 15,000 people.
Some of the greatest contributions, the primate noted, have come from Pope Francis, who has played the middle-man between Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors. The Vatican has been instrumental in securing the release of many prisoners of war, by means of delivering lists of names to the Russian embassy.
“Ukrainians often criticize anybody who has a relationship with Russia, but we are so grateful to Pope Francis and to the Holy See for being in contact with the Russian side, because without that we would not be able to rescue anybody,” said Shevchuk.
Aid to the Church in Need has set up an easily navigable webpage to gather donations from the faithful and those who support ACN’s efforts to aid Ukrainians stuck in the warzone. Those who are interested in donating to their worthy cause can do so here.