“The peoples of Eastern Europe feel European, they feel bound to its culture, history, and to all those elements pertaining to the Christian world, whose major development occurred within this cultural and religious area in the first millennium A.C.” His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of Ukraine’s Greek-Catholic Church, spoke on behalf of East European peoples. SIR met him in the news agency’s editorial office in Rome ahead of the dialogue and debate meeting on “(Re)thinking Europe – a Christian contribution to the future of the European project”, scheduled to take place in the Vatican October 27-29 on the initiative of Pope Francis and of COMECE bishops. “Europe is said to have been born on three pillars: Greek philosophy, Roman Law and the Gospel”, Shevchuk said. “These are also the foundations of Ukrainian society and of Eastern Europe. When Europe is described as a political, economic, geographic and cultural identity, we feel that we belong to this land.”
What is the relationship of your people, the people of Ukraine, with the rest of Europe? At political level, Ukrainians are more Euro-optimistic than EU citizenry. When the Berlin Wall collapsed, new independent States of the former Soviet Union sought to integrate with Western Europe because they saw integration as a guarantee of freedom and independence, ensuring the irreversibility of the democratic process. They were the first to request EU adhesion. And five years ago,
The Maidan revolution marked the eruption of this Euro-optimism,
In fact it was the result of a protest that took shape at grassroots level, especially among the young who opposed the decision of our ex-President to interrupt the EU-adhesion process. Since then, the Ukrainian people bore witness to the principles that led them to demand closer EU integration, whose price they paid even with their own blood.
What are the principles that lead so many Ukrainian people to fight for the European Union? The principles of Church social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, considering that under Communist rule the dignity of the human person was trampled upon and the State was not at the service of the human person: the person was at the service of the State; the common good, neither imposed nor reduced to the few, as occurred in post-Soviet years, but the good of all citizens; solidarity, which, far from being a form of forced collectivism, is a movement of generosity and welcome, and finally, subsidiarity, whereby everyone, each in their own role, are responsible for the State.
Do you feel accepted and taken into consideration in Europe?
Our Euro-optimism is seen as a Utopian dream by our very fellow Europeans.
When EU leaders visited Ukraine during the Maidan protests, and even today, when they visit our soldiers who are defending Ukraine, as they voice their opinion on European values they feel uncomfortable because according to them no European is willing to shed his own blood for those values.
What is happening in Europe, seen from your “observation deck”? European values are being questioned, in fact their very richness is hardly perceived.
I think that Europe is losing its Christian roots and thereby it is also losing the foundations of its identity.
“If Europe forgets its Christian roots it will have no more reason to affirm the dignity of the human person, to work for the common good, to be in solidarity with others. I would like to make this appeal: Europe be united, be yourself, be Christian!”
Hatred is the root cause of populism. This very populism is undermining the ties with the EU. As a East-European citizen who personally experienced the most heinous consequences of hate, what do you consider to be the most effective medicine for Europe? I would like to answer this question from a spiritual perspective, leaving others to carry out a political analysis.
People are inclined to hate others when they don’t feel loved.
When we discover that God loves us, that we live because He wanted us, we discover that love is an expression of life. When we are unable to love we are unable to live and to exist. As a result we try to reaffirm our ego to the detriment of others. The “other person” that we consider our enemy is the stranger, the migrant, peoples living in different regions, those who are different from us. In this way hatred and selfishness spread throughout society. A society made of those who are hated and by those who hate.
What’s the solution? John Paul II spoke of forgiveness. The European Union was created as a peace project. The founding fathers were determined to ensure that wars, clashes, hatred and extreme forms of nationalism that had divided the European continent, would never happen again. Thus the European Union is a project of peace. It’s a project for the common good not for private good; it’s a path for reconciliation. But John Paul II knew that no society can be peacefully healed unless its memory and its wounds are healed first, and he identified forgiveness as the way leading to its achievement. Forgiveness is balm, he used to say.
Forgiveness – given and received – is a balm that can heal our wounds, purify the memory and build paths of reconciliation.
You are the son of a land where a war is still being fought. What is your message to the European Union? To all EU leaders I would like to address not an appeal but a cry in the name of the Ukrainian people: stop investing in death! Invest in life! Don’t invest in wars but in human development. Ukraine is tired of wars. If the war continues it’s because someone is investing a large amount of money. Pope Francis is right in saying that the weapons industry is stained with blood and those who sign military and commercial agreements for the sale and purchase of weapons have their hands filled with blood. My appeal is: invest in life, not in war! Stop using weapons. If you say that Europe is a project of peace you must also understand that the war in Ukraine is not the war of Ukraine but a European war and that this haemorrhage involves the whole European Continent. If we are all aware that peace in Europe is strictly linked to peace in Ukraine and we are truly united, if this European conscience is reawakened, I am sure that the war in Ukraine will come to an end.