In recent years, the main obstacle to an encounter between the Pope and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch was the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which averages 4 million faithful. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow considers the Church proselytizing its territory and, in practice, robbing followers; something the Vatican denies.
The question is not resolved, but the Pope and Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba. The first result of the meeting was a joint statement.
Minutes later, during the flight to Mexico, the pope spoke briefly with reporters about this text. There was something that worried him.
'There will be many interpretations, many. But if there are any doubts, Fr. Lombardy can tell you the true significance of the matter. It is not a political or a sociological declaration, it is a pastoral declaration.â?
Indeed, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was upset by some words in the document, and said he understood why his Church feels 'betrayed' by the Vatican.
Shevchuk and his followers believe that the joint statement belittles the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and does not reflect that the war in Ukraine is the result of Russian intervention.
To better understand their situation and give them a public gesture of support and recognition, this Saturday the Pope met with him and the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The official reason was the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union attempt to suppress the Church, which continued living in hiding.
Francis has praised his courage, his loyalty and his martyrs. And he sent a message of solidarity with 'the pastors and faithful, for all they do in this difficult time, marked by the tribulations of war, to alleviate the suffering of the population, and to seek the path of peace in the Ukrainian land.'
During the cordial meeting, they explained to the Pope that after the 'unjust aggression to the Ukraine, if they did not hear the Pope's clear voice, it is logical that people do not understand and feel lost and abandoned.'
As a gift, he was given the icon of Mary, Gate of Mercy.
'She does nothing. She points to her Son, and holds him.'
'She shows us the way.'
Francis invited them to pray a Hail Mary together, blessed them, and asked the Archbishop to bless him.
Archbishop Shevchuk was pleased with the meeting, and upon leaving said the Pope had reiterated that the Joint Declaration with the Patriarch of Moscow is not a definitive document or a dogma of faith.