“We could not stand by and watch. We had to take the side of the people.The Catholic Church has lived under totalitarian and communist and monarchist regimes. And that the people have the right to protest against steps of the government with which they do not agree…The Church must be with the people.”
~Archpriest Igor Yatsiv, Greek Catholic Church.
Thousands of protesters have been gathered in Maidan, the main square in Kiev since November 2013.
The world is watching as Kiev’s Maidan Independence Square erupts in fire and violence as reform protesters battle police and government forces over the action by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to reverse a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead align with Russia. The death toll is rising as both police and protesters are among the dead and hundreds are injured in the melee.
The recent passing of an anti-protest law triggered the recent escalation of violent eruptions with the abduction and beating of opposition activists and police attacks on student protesters. The reform movement protesters want to move toward a more democratic European identity and economy, rather than the old Soviet style plutocracy. It is feared that once the Sochi Olympics end, Putin will redouble his efforts to suppress the reform movement in the Ukraine. Observers fear a total crackdown on the protesters with the power of Putin imposing his autocratic authority on Ukraine.
Bestselling Catholic author and apologist, George Weigel has been leading the charge and chronicling the growing Ukrainian crisis for months here. Weigel understands the history and people of Ukraine and in his prescient commencement address at the Ukrainian Catholic University on July 2013, cautioned:
“I believe, that you will draw the strength and courage to build a free and virtuous society in the Ukraine of the future. Through their witness, the confessors and martyrs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church planted in your country seeds of integrity, seeds of courage, and seeds of compassion that can, with your help, bring forth a rich harvest in shaping the free and virtuous Ukraine of the future. You face great challenges in building that future: challenges posed by the long-term cultural effects of the communist deconstruction of the human person and by the communist destruction of culture and society.”
Weigel’s insight and prediction is playing out on the streets of Kiev. ‘Seeds of courage’ are demonstrated by the protesters in Maidan Square as they challenge the Ukrainian government, Putin, and the old Soviet system. They will need every ounce of courage in the coming days and weeks.
So why should American Catholics care about the Ukraine?
This reform movement is strikingly Catholic. Ukraine’s three major Christian churches-the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate have joined in support of the anti-government protesters. Inside the tents filling Maidan Square are daily masses where the various denominations take turns celebrating Mass at the request of the protesters.
Pope Francis, too, addressed the situation in Ukraine at his weekly general audience: “With a troubled heart, I am following what is happening in Kiev, and I assure the Ukrainian people of my closeness and I pray for the victims of the violence, for their families and for the injured.”
The Ukrainian Catholic clergy fearlessly state that, “The Church stands on the side of Maidan. It is present on Maidan as a spiritual part that the protesters themselves need.”
The Catholic Catechism states that “The Church is Catholic, meaning “universal” in two ways. First, the Church is universal because Christ is present in her. Second, the Church is Catholic because she has a mission to the whole world. The new People of God (while remaining one) must spread throughout the world. God made human nature one and now he decrees that all the scattered people be gathered together. (CCC 830-831) check out today’s reading..
Where one or more is under threat or siege, we, as Catholic brothers and sisters in the faith, must unite in the Ukrainian struggle as a spiritual family. There are no geographical borders in the universal Catholic Church. Psalm 24 extols the domain of Christ’s Church,“The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness, the world and all its peoples.”
Can we American Catholics stand by and watch and do nothing?
As Catholics we beat with one universal heart, Holy Mother Church. When the Church is under siege or persecuted, we all are suffering.
Pray, yes, fasting, yes, but this is also the time for the Catholic imagination to take flight to help our suffering and persecuted Catholics around the world. The Catholic imagination draws from the well spring of our Creator. He is the source of creation; an imagination rooted in truth, power, beauty, courage and fearlessness. He will inspire answers and deliver hope and courage to persecuted Christians.
In the words of Blessed John Paul II in 2001 when he visited the Ukraine, he exclaimed,
“I greet a land which has known suffering and repression, while preserving a love of freedom which no one has ever managed to repress.” Those daring and bold words come from a man who suffered through decades of repression in his homeland.
The human imagination embraces freedom and seeks a life of opportunity and integrity. The imagination is on display in this YouTube video of a Ukrainian protester which has gone viral with over two million views and resonates with free people everywhere.
So, while the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry focuses on global warming, rather than the fires of Maidan Square, let’s imagine a Catholic movement of millions to bring peace and freedom to Ukraine.
As U.S. diplomats worry about carbon footprints, let’s join the foot soldiers for freedom in the streets of Ukraine in solidarity.
While Kiev burns, and the administration focuses on coal burning plants, let’s join our voices with the martyrs in Maidan Square, and bellow in the halls of Congress saying, I am a Ukrainian.