‘An Untimely Idea’: Ukrainian Catholic Leader Concerned by Format of Pope’s Good Friday Via Crucis

For the 13th station, “Jesus dies on the Cross,” a Ukrainian family and a Russian family are due to read a reflection they wrote together about how their lives were upended by the pain of war.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk records a video message on March 30, 2022.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk records a video message on March 30, 2022. (photo: Courtesy photo / facebook.com/head.ugcc.)

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) expressed concern on Tuesday at plans for Ukrainian and Russian families to carry a cross together at the Stations of the Cross led by Pope Francis at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday.

According to an April 12 press statement from the Secretariat of the Major Archbishop in Rome, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said: “I consider such an idea untimely, ambiguous, and such that it does not take into account the context of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.” 

“For the Greek Catholics of Ukraine, the texts and gestures of the 13th station of this Way of the Cross are incoherent and even offensive, especially in the context of the expected second, even bloodier attack of Russian troops on our cities and villages. I know that our Roman Catholic brothers share these thoughts and concerns.”

Archbishop Shevchuk’s intervention followed that of Andrii Yurash, the new Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, who expressed concern about the format of the Way of the Cross in a social media post on Tuesday. He wrote that “we are working on the issue trying to explain difficulties of its realization and possible consequences.”

On Monday, the Vatican published the meditations and prayers for the Pope’s Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, which will focus this year on the many “crosses” of family life.

For the 13th station, “Jesus dies on the Cross,” a Ukrainian family and a Russian family are due to read a reflection they wrote together about how their lives were upended by the pain of war.

“Why has my land become as dark as Golgotha? We have no tears left. Anger has given way to resignation,” the text of the reflection says.

“Lord, where are you? Speak to us amid the silence of death and division, and teach us to be peacemakers, brothers and sisters, and to rebuild what bombs tried to destroy,” it continues.

The prayer following the meditation calls Jesus’ pierced side a “wellspring of reconciliation for all peoples” and asks God that “families devastated by tears and blood may believe in the power of forgiveness.”

The two families are expected to carry a wooden cross together for the 13th station in the Colosseum before passing it to a family of migrants, who will carry the cross for the final station.

The Secretariat of the Major Archbishop in Rome said that Archbishop Shevchuk had urged the Vatican to review the plan after he “received many appeals from the faithful of the Church and civil society, both from Ukraine and abroad,” asking him “to convey to the Holy See the great indignation and rejection of this plan by Ukrainians around the world.”

“The Head of the UGCC said that he had already conveyed to the Vatican the numerous negative reactions of many bishops, priests, monks and nuns, and laity who are convinced that gestures of reconciliation between our peoples will be possible only when the war is over and those guilty of crimes against humanity are justly condemned,” the Secretariat said.

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In the course of the in-flight press conference, the Pope also addressed the Russo-Ukrainian War and Ukraine’s right to defend itself, relations between the Holy See and China, and critiques that participation in the Kazakh interreligious congress risks indifferentism.