VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI urged Ukraine’s Eastern-rite Catholic bishops to improve dialogue and work more closely with the nation’s Latin-rite Catholics.
He reminded them that the two rites belong to “one Catholic community, and both have full and equal citizenship” in Ukraine.
The pope made his comments Feb. 1 at the end of the Ukrainian Catholic bishops’ first “ad limina” visit since 1937.
Normally, bishops go to Rome every five years for their “ad limina” visit to report on the situation of their dioceses. However, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, an Eastern rite, was banned in 1946 and driven underground by Soviet authorities. After it was legalized in 1989, the Ukrainian Catholic bishops held extraordinary meetings with the pope in Rome. This year’s “ad limina” meeting marked a return to a normal five-year cycle of visits.
In his speech, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, urged the pope to recognize the patriarchal status of his church.
Cardinal Husar has continued a decadeslong campaign of his predecessors to win such recognition; they have said it is the natural structure of a mature Byzantine church, and the Ukrainian Catholic Church is ready for such recognition.
Many Orthodox leaders, however, are opposed to Vatican recognition of a Catholic patriarchate for Ukraine’s Eastern Catholics; the Orthodox say such a move would stop Catholic-Orthodox dialogue altogether or set it back decades.
In his speech, Pope Benedict made no mention of the cardinal’s request. Instead he urged the Ukrainian church to intensify formation programs for its priests and, if possible, to conduct the programs “in collaboration with the Latin bishops, each respecting one’s own tradition.”
The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of 22 Eastern Catholic churches. It is fully in union with Rome but has maintained the liturgical and spiritual heritage shared with the Orthodox churches.
The pope suggested it would be useful for the Eastern and Latin bishops to meet regularly, “for example once a year,” in order to further foster “a greater harmony of hearts” in their shared service to the one universal church.