Meeting with the community of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic seminary in Rome on Thursday, Pope Francis encouraged them build up justice and peace in their homeland.
“Today the world is wounded by wars and violence,” the Pope reflected Nov. 9 during his meeting at the Vatican's Clementine Hall with the community of the Ukrainian Pontifical College of Saint Josaphat.
"In particular, your beloved Ukrainian nation, whence you came and where you will return at the end of your Roman studies, is experiencing the drama of war, which generates great suffering."
He added that “strong is the aspiration to justice and to peace, which bars any form of prevarication, social or political corruption, realities for which the poor always pay the price. God sustains and encourages those who are committed to realizing a society characterized ever more by justice and solidarity.”
Pope Francis' meeting with the college, which serves seminarians and priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, comes 85 years after its present building as opened on Rome's Janiculum Hill, at the request of Pius XI.
Francis recalled his predecessor's particular concern for the faithful living in areas of suffering and persecution; at the time of the college's founding, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.
“In the years of his pontificate, Pius XI always and firmly raised his voice in defending the faith, the freedom of the Church, and the transcendent dignity of every human person,” Francis said. “He clearly condemned, through speeches and letters, the atheistic and inhumane ideologies that bloodied the twentieth century. He brought to light their contradictions by indicating the Church as the high road of the Gospel, and also putting into practice the search for social justice, an indispensable dimension of the fully human redemption of peoples and nations.”
He invited the seminarians “to study the social doctrine of the Church, so as to mature in discernment and judgement of the social realities in which you are called to operate.”
While the call to peace may seem unreachable, Pope Francis said that “by loving and anouncing the Word, you will become true pastors of the communities entrusted to you, and it will be the lamp that illuminates your heart and your home, whether you prepare for the celibate or married priesthood, according to tradition of your Church.”
Considering the war, corruption, and strife among Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches which Ukraine is facing, Francis told the seminarians “to ensure your heart lies always in wide horizons, which have the measure of the whole world … love and care for your traditions, but avoid any form of sectarianism.”
He recalled the rainbow as a sign of God's covenant with humanity which calls man “to learn to love and respect each other, to abandon their weapons, to reject war and all kinds of abuse.”
“If you walk this way and teach others to do the same, especially in the fundamental ecumenical dialogue, I am certain that from the heavenly homeland all the bishops and priests — some formed at your college — who have given their lives or have suffered persecution because of their fidelity to Christ and to the Apostolic See will smile at you and support you.”
Pope Francis also recalled his relationship with Fr. Stefan Czmil, from whom he came to appreciate the Divine Liturgy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Fr. Czmil was born in Sudova Vyshnia in what was then Austria-Hungary in 1914 and grew up in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Drawn to the example of St. John Bosco and his work, he decided to join the Salesians in order to educate poor young people in Ukriaine.
In 1930 Pope Pius XI granted permission for Eastern rite candidates to the Salesians to retain their rite and Church traditions and Fr. Czmil was sent to northern Italy for formation. He was professed as a member of the Salesians in 1935.
He studied for the priesthood in Italy during World War II and was ordained a priest of the order in 1945. While in Italy he helpd many Ukrainian refugees to find new homes.
In 1948 he was sent to Argentina to serve Ukrainian immigrants, where he met a young Jorge Bergoglio.
“This was good for me, because the man spoke of persecutions, of sufferings, of ideologies that were persecuting Christians,” Pope Francis told the seminarians. “And he taught me to open myself to a different liturgy, which I keep always in my heart for its beauty.”
Fr. Czmil was later sent back to Rome, where he was secretly consecrated a bishop in 1977. He died the following year.
Francis recalled that while he was in Buenos Aires, Major Archbishop Shevchuk had asked him for testimonies with which to open the cause for canonization of Fr. Czmil.
“I wanted to remember him today because it is just to give thanks before you for the good he did me,” the Pope told the seminarians.
“I accompany you with my blessing, invoking peace and ecumenical harmony for Ukraine.”