On March 1, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said the following:
During the last three months, the church, especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was with its people. And it will continue to remain with its people. If, God forbid, we will have to stand together on the battlefield with our soldiers, with our army, the Ukrainian Church, especially the UGCC, is ready to provide pastoral support. Every citizen of Ukraine must be prepared to defend his or her independent and sovereign state. ..Our people and our country are currently in danger. We must stand up for our country, to be ready – if necessary – to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state. And here we are absolutely united. We now need to think about what unites us. Our state is a multinational, multiconfessional, but we all have to be together to defend our own independent and sovereign state.
Three years ago, when this man was named Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, I was impressed. His relative youth, his eloquence; all spoke of great promise.
But these words are fuel on a volatile situation. The Church should be a voice of reason and peace, urging nonviolent solutions -like Pope Francis urging dialogue- not promising to join the troops on the battlefield.
And to an outsider, the crisis in Ukraine looks more complex than many of the narratives that are circulating. Roughly half of the nation identifies with Russia, and near that speaks Russian, not Ukrainian, mutually intelligible “languages” which are more like dialects than distinct tongues.
While there is no parallel, one can imagine the American response to such a crisis. Indeed, we have intervened time and again half way around the world when American strategic -or corporate- interests were seen as threatened. Russia is responding to unrest right next door, in a country with a large Russian ethnic minority (majority in Crimea).
None of which means I am defending either Putin or the exiled Ukrainian president.
But that young archbishop? The one who seemed so promising?
He is looking more and more like just another religious nationalist.