After raising funds for humanitarian relief in Ukraine through a special collection in Europe, Pope Francis has established a committee to decipher the most urgent needs and get help to where it's most needed.
According to a June 9 communique from the Vatican “the Pope has decided to establish a specific technical committee on-site, composed of a president and four members” to help with the distribution of the funds raised through the collection.
The president of the committee, appointed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin in a recent letter, is Bishop Jan Sobilo, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia. The Latin rite diocese is located in northeastern Ukraine, near to the front line of the separatist-held areas in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
It will be up to Bishop Sobilo, a native of Poland, to name the other members of the committee apart from one, who will be appointed jointly by the Caritas Internationalis and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.
The formation of the committee, which has been given a year-long mandate, follows Pope Francis’ decision to take up an April 24 collection in all the Catholic parishes of Europe to promote humanitarian support for all those suffering or displaced due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Conflict erupted in Ukraine in November 2013, when the former government refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, leading to months of violent protests.
Tensions deepened in February 2014, when the country’s former president was ousted following the protests, and a new government appointed. In March of that year, Ukraine’s eastern peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia, and pro-Russian separatists have since taken control of eastern portions of Ukraine.
More than 6,500 people, including civilians, have died in the fighting between Ukraine's military and the separatists. Roughly 2 million others have been forced to flee due to violence and a lack of basic humanitarian necessities such as food and medicine.
The rebels have been supported by both Russian arms and troops, according to both Ukraine and Western nations. A ceasefire was brokered and officially began Feb. 15, 2015; however, the agreement fell through and low-level fighting has continued, with new deaths reported each day. Pope Francis’ collection was aimed “exclusively for the benefit of the victims of the war, without distinction of religion, confession, or ethnicity.”
The headquarters of the new committee tasked with distributing the funds raised will be located in the Curia of the Kharkiv-Zaporizhia diocese. Those who work with the committee, either at the headquarters or in the field, will do so on a volunteer basis to ensure that all of the funds raised by the collection will benefit those affected by the war.
According to the Vatican communique, Cardinal Parolin’s letter appointing the committee’s president also stipulated certain conditions for proposals on what the funds will be used for.
One stressed that any proposals must be received directly from interreligious or inter-confessional establishments, from individuals areas of need, or from individual bishops, including non-Catholics, where there are no formal establishments.
Since the collection and the committee are personal initiatives of the Pope, the final referents of the project are the Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which can be contacted through the Apostolic Nunciature in Ukraine.
The "technical supervision” of the implementation of the committee’s work, however, has been entrusted to Cor Unum.
In an exclusive, sit-down interview with CNA last month, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said Ukrainians are grateful for the Pope’s help and attention to the conflict.
“We are very grateful to the Holy Father for his initiative, first of all to bring attention of the international community to the suffering of Ukrainian citizens in Ukraine.”
All Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, are willing to cooperate with the Pope in his initiative in order to reach the people who are suffering and in need, he said, expressing his gratitude that Francis “is trying to awaken the consciousness of European Christians to that silence about the unjust war against Ukraine.”