Pope Francis unable to travel to Ukraine, to visit its national church in Rome
On Sunday, Pope Francis will visit the Basilica of St. Sofia, home of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community in Rome.
All signs suggest it will be more than just a visit by the Archbishop of Rome to one of his parishes. Instead, it will be an occasion to recall the suffering of the Ukrainian people. The country faces a humanitarian crisis following Crimean occupation by Russia. Two million people are internally displaced, and the UN has reported unlawful arrests, torture and even illegal executions.
In a meeting with journalists, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk called the situation a forgotten war.
Major Archbishop, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
“This tragedy is no longer mentioned. The war in Ukraine is no longer news. I don't know why. In the area ravaged by war, there are armed conflicts daily. If I'm not mistaken, the majority of schools are destroyed. The Apostolic Nuncio Claudio Gugerotti comes every once in a while to visit the areas and he returns more depressed each time. Recently, around Christmas, he came and found a deserted Luhansk. In large neighborhoods of 200 apartments, only two or three remained.”
St. Sofia is one of Rome's newer basilicas, but its history is rich. St. Clement, the fourth pope, is buried inside.
The basilica's construction was advocated by Cardinal Josyp Slipyi, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church during Soviet rule. The cardinal experienced harsh persecution, spending 18 years in prison.
Paul VI attended the basilica's consecration, and John Paul II visited in 1984. Pope Francis will be the third pope to enter.
This visit will also include a bit of nostalgia, as Salesian bishop Stepan Czmil is buried there. The pope met Czmil when Bergoglio was a teenager. The then priest called the future Holy Father to help him celebrate Mass. Thanks to Czmil, Pope Francis learned the Ukrainian rite.