Crimean churches respond to military presence


Ukraine has been bubbling over with turmoil since protests broke out in November 2013, and the Catholic Church has responded. Many Ukranians began protesting in response to President Viktor Yanukovych backing off on his previous intention to create ties with the European Union because neighboring Russia would not approve.

The protests, particularly in Kiev, were initially peaceful; however, as tensions escalated, violence erupted. Ukraine Health Ministry reports that 96 people, both police and civilians, have died, 77 of whom died within the same 48-hour period at Independence Square. Around 900 citizens have been injured. President Yanukovych has fled to Russia and the entire Parliament has resigned.

The disaster facing the region has only increased with the appearance of Russian troops in Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which takes up most of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, America Magazine reports.

Soldiers entered the civilian airport in the Simferpol Feb. 27 and spread throughout the region. They carried rifles and wore camouflage without markings.

Military presence left Church officials in the region alarmed and concerned that violence like that of Kiev may engulf the region. They hope to maintain relative peace in and around the Peninsula. Solidarity acts as a cornerstone of the region, whose motto translates to “prosperity in unity,” which Auxiliary Bishop of the area Jacek Pyl urges Crimea’s inhabitants to remember and take to heart.

“In solidarity with the legacy of our parents, who cared for the development of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, I urge all believers and nonbelievers to refrain from extremism, and not to allow the fraternal bond between people living in Crimea to break,” Pyl said in America Magazine.

Pyl also calls to mind the variety of religions that have cohabitated the region peacefully for decades, including Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Karaites and non-believers, and encourages the people to apply the same fraternity to the situation at hand. In addition to supporting one another, the Catholic Church implores followers in the area to pray and fast for peace as well as for the safety of everyone involved, regardless of race or creed.

Rev. Jan Bielecki of St. Clement Pope and Martyr Parish at a naval port near the site of the military presence told Catholic News Service that the people of his parish have entered a state of fright and confusion. He hopes God will protect the area from the type of carnage that occurred in Kiev.

“We are praying for our homeland and the state authorities, and hoping there’ll be no bloodshed,” Bielecki said.

The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations is radically opposed to any force which may create a division in the country. In a statement issued on Friday, it said, “We urge the authorities to refrain from any steps that could be construed as dividing Ukrainians on religious, linguistic, national, regional or any other grounds,” and called the act of splitting “a sin against God and future generations”.

Churches in Russia have expressed concerns that Russian Orthodox Churches in Ukraine have undergone or will undergo desecration in response to the situation.

Pyl, however, calls for Crimean and Ukrainian people to refrain from such behavior in God’s name. He said he prays that “God will liberate our hearts from all evil intentions.”

“No one wants trouble here,” Pyl said, “but for now our future is unknown and in God’s hands.”

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