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Ukrainian Catholic, Orthodox leaders talk of easing tensions

Catholic World News - August 25, 2011

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Church met on August 23 with the leader of the Russian-backed Ukrainian Orthodox Church, for a friendly conversation that contrasted with past bitter exchanges between the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies.

Metropolitan Volodymyr of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow patriarchate) welcomed the Catholic leader to his residence, and Major Archbishop Shevchuk congratulated his Orthodox counterpart on the 45th anniversary of his episcopal ordination, before the two settled in to a more substantive discussion of relations between their churches.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church—the largest of the Eastern churches in communion with the Holy See—has frequently been the focus of complaints from Orthodox leaders, especially in Moscow. After years of Communist repression, the Ukrainian Catholic Church burst vigorously into public life after the fall of the Soviet regime. The Russian Orthodox Church has complained about this Catholic activity in a land that the Moscow patriarchate regards as its own “canonical territory.” Ukrainian Catholic leaders, in turn, demanded the return of Catholic parish churches that had been confiscated during the Stalinist persecution and handed over to local Orthodox communities. During their meeting, Metropolitan Volodymyr and Major Archbishop Shevchuk agreed that future conflicts should be handled through friendly dialogue.

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is also divided, with Metropolitan Volodymyr heading the group that has maintained its alliance with Moscow. Another group, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev patriarchate, is headed by Patriarch Filaret. Once recognized by Moscow as the Metropolitan of Ukraine, Filaret broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church to establish a separate Ukrainian patriarchate after the country won independence.

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