Catholic priests 'disappear' in Russian-controlled Crimea
Ukrainian Catholics fear results of Crimea joining with Russia.
A Catholic priest who was abducted during the morning hours of March 15 in Sevastopol, a city on the Crimea peninsula that is disputed by Russia and Ukraine, was released but later abducted again. A local news service reports that pro-Russian armed forces abducted Fr. Mykola Kvych, a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest, from the church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which is located near kilometer 5 of the Balaklava highway. He is a chaplain of the Ukrainian navy. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church uses the liturgy and spirituality of the Christian east, as do Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, but is in communion with Pope of Rome.
Reports indicate that Fr. Kvych was seized by six men, two of whom were in uniform and four in plain clothes. He was then taken to an undisclosed location. A parishioner who called Fr. Kvych's cellular phone heard abusive language on the line directed at the priest before the call was cut short. He was later released on the same day. The Russian-dominated authorities in Crimea accused him of sedition. When he returned to his apartment, Fr. Kvych found his doors were destroyed. Left behind was a menacing sign that read, "Get out Vatican spies."
Last week, Fr. Kych and other Greek Catholic priests in Crimea – at the direction of their bishop – evacuated their wives and families to mainland Ukraine. However, the priests themselves returned to their parishes to be with their faithful despite moral and physical dangers.
On March 16, Fr. Kvych disappeared again. The last thing he was able to say was, "If I do not get in touch, then let people know my apartment on Khrustalova is attacked. It's the police and pro-Russian self-defense. They are many. Many. I have metal doors, but I do not know how long they can resist." Both of the priest’s cell-phones have been switched off, even though they remained on during his March 15 arrest. At the time of his second arrest, he had just finished an interview with Finnish journalists who may have been with him during the attack, according to Fr. Ihor Yatsiv, Head of the Information Department of the church.
Two other Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest are now missing. Parishioners of Evpatoria reported that their pastor, Fr. Bogdan Kostecki has disappeared. On March 15, he had returned from Ternopil , where he had evacuated his family. After calling his wife at 10 PM local time, his phone went dead. He has been missing since that time. In addition, Fr. Ihor Havryliv has also disappeared. According to preliminary reports, he was with Fr. Kostecki.
During the demonstrations at Maidan Square in Kyiv throughout December 2013 and into the new year when protesters squared off with Ukrainian security forces loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainian Orthodox priests not affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and Catholic priests were seen drawing themselves into a line between the contending parties. Protests in Kyiv and elsewhere in the Ukraine were sparked on November 21 when Yanukovych refused to sign an agreement leading to his country’s association with the European Union.
On February 20, scores of unarmed protesters were killed by government snipers. This led to the police to refuse further orders from Yanukovych. On February 22, Yanukovych fled the country and then emerged in Russia from where he is encouraging Russia’s incursion into Crimea and the Ukrainian homeland. The military occupation in Crimea is into its third week and many Ukrainians fear that they face imminent war.
In 2013, the Yanukovych government threatened to delegitimize the Greek Catholic Church during Christmastide because of what he regarded treasonous behavior by clergymen. During the Communist era (1946-1989) the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was the largest church in the world to be declared illegal. Even so, it remained most substantial body of opposition to Soviet rule in Ukraine. Since it did not collaborate with the Soviets, it has wielded significant moral authority in Ukraine since the fall of communism and during the current crisis.
Following the initial abduction of Fr. Kyvch, UGCC Bishop Borys Gudziak told Vatican Radio, "Every abduction is a terrible event for everybody involved,” adding, “It’s a gross violation of human rights and God-given human dignity.” He is concerned about the repercussions of the abduction. “Our priests and bishops have been very close to the people,” said Bishop Borys. “We’ve been inspired by the example of Our Lord [Who] went a long distance from fellowship with the Father to incarnate Himself and be in our reality.” According to the bishop, his priests have been inspired by the words of Pope Francis “who said a pastor needs to have the smell of his sheep. And our pastors have been with the people, and they’re today with the people enduring this occupation in the Crimea.”
Ukrainian Catholics fear that should Russia seek to further dominate Ukraine that the days of Soviet-style persecution of Catholics may return. Even today, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is not recognized as a legal entity in the Russian Federation.
Bishop Borys appealed “to the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church, who have in direct or indirect ways supported these moves for the for the occupation of Crimea to do everything in their power to have Father Kvych released and to stop the persecution of Catholic priests and Catholic faithful on this peninsula.”
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