Ukrainian Greek Catholic head says Pope's meeting with Russian Patriarch start of a path

(Photo: REUTERS / Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Kremlin)Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill during a visit to St. Sergius of Radonezh Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, outside St. Petersburg, December 8, 2014.

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who was seen as critical of the efficacy of Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill signing a joint statement, has clarified his comments saying the meeting was of historical importance.

"I agree to call that meeting historical, as we need to meet in order to discuss and to carry forward our path to unity," Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian church was quoted as saying on the church's website Feb. 25.

However, he noted that "the meeting in Havana is just the beginning of the path."

Patriarch Kirill is often seen having a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met on Feb. 12 in a historic meeting, uniting to issue a global appeal for the protection of Christians under assault in the Middle East.

Their meeting in Havana took place nearly 1,000 years after the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity split apart, and was the first between a Roman Catholic pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch.

"We must not fix our attention on one only point. We must think what to do after. The first thing is to free religion from politics.

"We cannot reconcile with geopolitics, but we can reconcile with our brothers," Shevchuk said.

Archbishop Shevchuk is Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and a member of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See.

The church has followed the spread of the Ukrainian diaspora and now has some 40 hierarchs in over a dozen countries on four continents, including three other metropolitan bishops in Poland, the United States, and Canada.

Shevchuk said on Feb.14, "Speaking of the signed text of the Joint Declaration, in general it is positive.

"In it are raised questions, which are of concern to both Catholics and Orthodox, and it opens new perspectives for cooperation. I encourage all to look for these positive elements.

"However, the points which concern Ukraine in general and specifically the UGCC raised more questions than answers," said the Ukrainian bishop.

GREEK CATHOLICS URGER TOUGHER LINE ON RUSSIA

Ukraine's Greek Catholic church has urged a tougher line on Russian aggression in his country both from Pope Francis and the international community.

A year ago Shevchuk had criticized a statement from Francis, in which he called the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists "fratricidal," saying it was "particularly painful for all the people in Ukraine."

Archbishop Shevchuk has headed the church since March 2011 and he will meet with the Pope on March 5, at the end of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.

On the church's website he described the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as composed of two realms.

On one side, it shares "the same liturgy, theology and also some history with Orthodox Churches, especially with the Patriarchate of Moscow." On the other, it is in full communion with the successor of Peter.

Because of this identity "we have always been stigmatized by the Orthodox. But being in Communion with the Holy Father is pivotal to us," he said.

According to Archbishop Shevchuk, "it is natural that nowadays being Catholic means being ecumenical," and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church thus has a mission to promote Christian unity.

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