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Ukrainian citizens ahead of the vote. Sviatoslav Shevchuk: “Rejection of populists, corruption, and of whoever upholds the use of violence”

Ukrainians are set to go to the polls two times in 2019. On Sunday March 31st citizens will vote in the first round of Presidential elections and in October they will vote for the renewal of Parliament. An overview of the situation in the Country by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, religious leader of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. For the past year the faithful have been gathering in prayer for the positive outcome of the elections across Greek-Catholic churches in the country. A “memorandum” released a few days ago on “responsible citizenship” and “Christian political leadership” will be read in all parishes. This is above all an invitation to vote. Not voting is a sign of “indifference towards the whole of society”

The Country is always seen as “a problem from the social, political, ecumenical, diplomatic and military perspective.” Ukraine has had enough: the Country wants to overcome this cliché and present itself to Europe “as a solution to the many problems afflicting the continent.” The next presidential and parliamentary elections this year will be of crucial importance to achieve this goal. Presidential elections will take place Sunday March 31st. Citizens will be called to vote again in October for the renewal of Parliament. In the awareness that the future of the Country depends on the choice of the new leaders and parliamentary groups, the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine has taken action in the hope that the two elections may finally lead the Country towards an “authentic and modern” democracy.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk gave an overview of the situation in the Country to a group of journalists in Rome, in the wake of the Vatican summit on the protection of minors in the Church, where His Beatitude participated in his capacities as head of the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine. “My people are hurting. It’s a suffering population”, he said in his opening remarks. Three “wounds were inflicted in their flesh”: the burdensome heritage of the Soviet period that still today prevents Ukraine from reaching the stage of a mature democracy; corruption, “a cancer that contaminated the Country” causing deep-rooted disorientation and the forgotten Donbass conflict, that is “not a fratricidal war” but “a political game played by world powers”,

a war designed “by those who decided to invest in death.”

For the past year prayers were recited for the positive outcome of the Presidential elections across all Greek-Catholic parishes in the Country. We risk populism taking over also in our Country. On several occasions His Beatitude guarded his faithful against the risk of surrendering to “the illusions” of those “who promise ready-made solutions to complex situations” . With a saddened voice, he added: “notably, 44 candidates in the elections can be described as populists.” Another indication is not to choose “political party representatives who incite violence and conflict” thereby channelling “the suffering of the people” into dangerous and uncertain paths. “Violence never leads to the common good.” On top of this, “vote-selling” is a widespread practice especially among the Country’s poorest brackets. In this respect His Beatitude expressed his firm condemnation: “selling one’s conscience is a serious sin.”

“I always tell people not to vote for those who sell their votes.  If they do, they will destroy their Country.”

“’A ten-point memorandum for responsible citizens and Christian politicians” was released a few days ago. It will be read in all Greek-Catholic parishes ahead of the presidential elections. It’s first of all an invitation to go to the polls. Not voting is a sign of “indifference towards the whole of society.” It’s also an indication of the main features the ideal candidate should have: “to observe Christian values in political activity”, “to participate in the drafting of fair legislation”, “to voice the uncompromising condemnation of  corruption”, “not to abuse of power for selfish motivations”, not to “satisfy private or corporative interests of third parties to the detriment of the common good.”

Despite ongoing diplomatic efforts and negotiations, the armed conflict in the eastern area of Ukraine is still ongoing, with a death toll of over 12 thousand and more than 1.5  million displaced people. It’s a scourge. In fact it is THE scourge that afflicts the heart of Europe amidst general indifference. His Beatitude spoke of the wounds inflicted “on people’s bodies and souls.” Informative programs have been launched for the whole clergy to help identify the typical symptoms of “post-traumatic syndrome” among the population at large and thus convince those affected to seek specialized medical help. “It can be said – Shevchuk remarked – that the Church in Ukraine reflects what Pope Francis has described as a veritable field hospital.” But the wounds are also of an existential nature.

“Mothers come to us holding photos of their dead young ones and ask us in tears: where was God when my son was dying?”

“No politician, no diplomat, no scientist has an answer to these questions.” Only love and closeness can warm their hearts. “When Ukrainians see Pope Francis praying for them, when they receive a gesture of solidarity, when they see a Church in service, only then do they understand that they are not alone, that they have not been abandoned by God.” This is the “role” the Church wishes to carry out in society. “We have always been a Church of the people”, Shevchuk said. “We never have been and never will be a State Church.”

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