By John Pontifex
“It is hard to imagine a more prayerful [protest] in 21st century Europe” – Bishop Gudziak
THE “brutal” crackdown on demonstrators in Ukraine is acting as a recruiting sergeant for the protest movement, according to a bishop, who described the country as engaged “in a battle for dignity”.
Bishop Borys Gudziak, Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris, defended protestors on the streets coming under fire from government forces, but repeated calls that they do not take up arms.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity which for decades has supported the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Bishop Gudziak spoke out against the violent security response to the demonstrations, describing protestors as prayerful and non-violent.
Speaking today (Fri, 24th Jan) from Paris, the bishop said: “The people are not out on the streets to campaign for a party or candidate – they are gathering around principles.
He added: “The country in somewhat traumatic ways is trying to break the bonds of the past and the bonds of fear and subjugation by declaring the God-given dignity of every human being.
“Events in the last few months and days have been a pilgrimage in our battle for dignity.
“In the last two months, Ukraine has changed dramatically. The level of social consciousness has increased.
“The brutality of the special forces is rallying more and more of the population in an active role in this bid for dignity.”
Bishop Gudziak, formerly rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, reasserted the calls made by religious leaders on 10th December.
These include a request to the Ukrainian government to listen to the protestors’ demands, a denunciation of violence and an appeal for dialogue between the regime and the various groups involved in the demonstrations.
Highlighting the need for dialogue, Bishop Gudziak said: “Dialogue is very difficult and has a very arduous methodology but there are no better alternatives.”
Bishop Gudziak appealed for international intervention to enable successful dialogue.
He said: “I believe that the dialogue will not be effective without international mediation.”
The bishop stressed the peaceful nature of the protestors, describing how each day the demonstrations begin with prayer, and that at times prayers take place on the hour every hour, with priests mingling among the crowds, hearing confessions.
The bishop said: “It is hard to imagine a more prayerful manifestation in 21st century Europe.”
Amid no apparent sign of the government giving into the protestors’ demands, Bishop Gudziak said: “We hope that reason and ethical principles will prevail and that authentic dialogue will begin.”
He added that the government’s harsh treatment of protestors was undermining its authority, adding: “The legitimacy of the Ukrainian government is predicated by respect for human rights.
“That respect has been neglected and in some cases has been absent. Protestors have been shot and others have been beaten. ”
“The perpetrators of violence have not been brought to justice.”
The bishop said he hoped the country would not turn its back on the peace it has mostly enjoyed since emerging from Soviet domination.
He said this peaceful record was “miraculous” given the conflict in other countries emerging from USSR control.
The bishop, who was installed in Paris at a service in December 2012, highlighted the growth of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from 1989 when there were about 300 priests with an average age of over 70 to today’s 3,000 priests with an average age of 40.
Mentioning that there were 800 seminarians out of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic population of five million, he paid tribute to Aid to the Church in Need, which he described as crucial in the restoration of UGCC in the post-Soviet era.
He said: “I would like to express a particular word of thanks to ACN which has been the greatest benefactor of our Church.”
“We are very grateful to all the staff in the organisation and its many generous benefactors who will always remain in our prayers.”