Bishop Shevchuk: “The war will not prevent the celebration of Christmas”
“Many people will go to the front to celebrate Christmas with our soldiers.” In an interview with Vatican News, the head of the Greek Catholic Church talks about how Ukrainian believers will celebrate Christmas despite the war. From fire raining down from the sky to a kitchen set up in his basement to offer hot meals to people without electricity, Bishop Chevchuk tells us about his daily life since the start of the Russian offensive.
Salvatore Cernuzio – Sent to Kyiv (Ukraine)
“Stop the hostilities, stop killing us, this will be the first step towards real and lasting peace. Peace is something deeper than the absence of war. It is not only about winning the war, but also about winning the spirit of the war, winning over its causes.” There is a helmet and a bulletproof vest in the library behind Bishop Svyatoslav Chevchuk as he makes this appeal for Ukraine and its people. “Feel how heavy they are… We wear them every day. Someone joked that they were the new liturgical vestments!” The archbishop of Kyiv-Halychyn and the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church told journalists on assignment with the embassies of Poland and Ukraine to the Holy See in Kyiv.
Much has changed since the early days of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine at the end of February. You can see fire raining down from there,” Bishop Shevchuk explains, pointing to the window. He, along with hundreds of people, took refuge in the temple of the Resurrection Cathedral. Today, he speaks more freely. He is especially thinking about next Christmas: “We have a tradition of singing Christmas carols to our neighbors, especially the poorest, to share our joy and good wishes. Now everyone is wondering: will there be joy at Christmas, will we be allowed to sing, or will we have to shut up and cry? I said yes and yes, Christmas will be here. We have the right to celebrate the joy of Christmas not from worldly entertainment but from Heaven, because the Prince of Peace is about to be born.”.
Celebrations at the front and in shelters
These holidays will extend to the front. There will indeed be someone to sing for the soldiers on the battle line, Bishop Chevtchouk announces. “During the Soviet eraremembers Christmas carols are a form of protest against the atheist communist regime. People sang to relieve their worries and sorrows. Christmas carols are an expression of the Christian faith, they are a catechism that sings the birth of Jesus. That is why many are preparing to go and sing with our soldiers at the border. I know a few students organized themselves“. In every air-raid shelter and in every house there will be the same celebration.”We will celebrate Christmas in the cold and dark. It will make us live the story of the Holy Family in our own skin, also in cold and dark, but with heavenly joy.”.
Not getting used to war
Therefore, this is the message of hope that the Greek Catholic bishop wants to spread at a time when the attacks in Ukraine have subsided and many cities have been liberated. “Yes, but you have to be careful. When we hear a weather warning, we no longer pay attention to it. This shows that the danger has not decreased, but rather that people have become psychologically accustomed to it. This is a risk because now we have the rocket phenomenon. They can get off anywhere, both in Kyiv and Lviv. There is no safe place in Ukraine.”
However, dealing with emergencies is more urgent when faced with this possibility. For war-torn Ukraine, the first is the impossibility of cold and heating due to blackouts and power outages. “The reason for the fifth wave of refugees is the cold“says Bishop Shevchuk. “Before the start of the war, the oligarchs took the money and fled, then those who helped themselves with their means and found hotels and other places, those who still had nothing fled empty-handed. I am thinking of the family from the city of “Borispil” who traveled 23 km barefoot with their children at night. Finally, not far away, a fourth wave of refugees appeared, searching for the first village and waiting for the moment to return home. Now a new wave, the fifth: thermal refugees fleeing not from the war, but from the cold, are gathering in the center and east of Ukraine.”.
The kitchen under the archbishop’s house
“We were not prepared for the phenomenon of lack of electricity and the need to feed so many peoplesays the bishop. “We took steps to build kitchens to provide immediate hot food“. A kitchen will be built right under his house.”It will be ready in a few days, we need to organize the logistics of food distribution. As a church we cannot hope to feed everyone, but we try to accommodate everyone we can. This is our pastoral work. Pastoral care nearby“, he explains.
Daily video messages
It was this closeness that led Bishop Chevtchouk to prepare a video message that has been posted online every day since February 24. A demanding initiative explaining the origin of the head of the Greek Catholic Church:On the first day, everyone was disorientated, Russian helicopters, gunshots were visible from the sky, the whole world started calling me: are you alive? Where are you ? What are you doing ? I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know if I’ll be alive in two hours, I thought. so I said to the secretary: let’s give a message to confirm that we are alive. I realized that with these messages I could help people rationalize their fears and talk about the hope that comes from faith. After 2 or 3 weeks I wondered if it was worth it. Then one day I went to the suffering city of Zytomir, and an old woman approached me in a church and said: “We live in constant fear, we are afraid, although you talk to us. “But madam, not me. I don’t know what else to say! It’s not what you say, it’s how you talk to us. Then I realized that even though I no longer knew what to say, it was important for people to hear the voice of their church accompanying them.“.