Press Release No:12/22
15 June 2022
In a hybrid meeting on 7 June in Brussels with the French Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) highlighted Ukrainian church voices, emphasising the need to strength engagement of local religious communities in realising peace in Ukraine.
“The churches in Ukraine are widely respected and trusted, usually more than governmental institutions. This gives them a unique moral authority to promote peace,” said Dr Pavlo Smytsnyuk, director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University.
“To actively promote peace, it is pertinent to engage Ukrainian religious communities, as well as their educational institutions and charities. They are able to spread the message of peace in places, inaccessible to political actors,” added Smytsnyuk, who joined the meeting online.
Archbishop Yevstratiy of Chernihiv and Nizhyn from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine reflected on how religion is used to give legitimacy to war, and as an excuse for Russian aggression. “Unfortunately, the idea of restoration of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire has been used to justify the war,” said Archbishop Yevstratiy, deputy head of the Department of External Church Relations and spokesperson for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
“This neo-imperial idea with roots in the medieval idea of Moscow as the third Rome has been very unhelpful to say the least,” he added.
The two Ukrainians in the meeting underlined the continuing efforts of local churches and religious communities to prevent aggression, especially in the context of coexistence between religious and ethnic communities. They emphasised that both Ukrainian and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine stand together against the war. “Ukraine is a plural society, where all religions cooperate under the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, despite historic tensions, and together they support Ukrainian sovereignty,” they stressed.
“It is CEC’s unique role to highlight Ukrainian church voices, and convey their stance to the European political institutions,” said CEC General Secretary Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen. “Not only is this a legacy of CEC, bridgebuilding, promoting reconciliation and peace, but the focus in our current work: to build bridges between churches and the highest political level in Europe.” Since the onslaught of the war in February, CEC has been engaging deeply with the churches in Ukraine.
Together, with its Catholic partner the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), CEC has been traditionally involved with EU Council Presidencies, supported by Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which foresees dialogue between the EU and the churches, as well as religious associations or communities.
The meeting discussed in depth the role of religion in the Ukrainian conflict, which has been a concern to the French Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The meeting was hosted by Ms Pauline Dubarry, Deputy Head of Justice and Home Affairs at the Permanent Representation of France to the European Union and Mr Julien Cécillon, External Action, Advisor, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and attended also by Ms Katerina Pekridou, CEC Executive Secretary for theological dialogue.
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