“We are recording new important pages in the reconciliation book” — Head of the UGCC and Head of the Polish Episcopate in a Joint Statement

July 7, 2023, 15:38 204

Events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Volhynia massacre have begun in Warsaw. On July 7, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Father and Head of the UGCC, and Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, prayed for the victims of the tragedy and then signed a Joint Statement “Forgiveness and Reconciliation” between the Polish and Ukrainian peoples.

“We are recording new important pages in the reconciliation book” — Head of the UGCC and Head of the Polish Episcopate in a Joint Statement

The service of forgiveness and reconciliation was held at the Roman Catholic Archdiocesan Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Warsaw. To mark the 80th anniversary of the Volhynia tragedy, the archbishops solemnly signed the Statement on Forgiveness and Reconciliation of Peoples, a process that the Catholic Churches started more than 50 years ago.

“The history of relations between the Polish and Ukrainian peoples is full of wonderful, kind, and heroic deeds, but unfortunately, also turbulent and dramatic events. These two peoples were baptized almost simultaneously and, although they derived from different Christian traditions — one from Latin and the other from Byzantine — their baptism was within one indivisible Church,” the Statement reads.

The bishops indicate that since 1987, many joint initiatives for reconciliation have been accomplished. “We have spoken openly about difficult matters, referring in particular to the Volyn events of eighty years ago as ‘murder and ethnic cleansing, the victims of which were tens of thousands of innocent people, such as women, children, and the elderly, primarily Poles, but also Ukrainians, as well as those who were saving neighbors and relatives from danger,’” they say, as quoting the Declaration of Reconciliation of June 28, 2013.

After the discovery of mass graves in Bucha, Irpin, or Hostomel, the statement says, everyone understands how important it is to name the perpetrators unequivocally, exhume the victims, and honor their right to a decent burial and human memory. The archbishops noted that it is also vital indeed to distinguish between two closely related experiences — forgiveness and reconciliation.

“Forgiveness prior to reconciliation,” the document states, “is an inward experience. It originates in the depths of the heart and does not depend on the neighbor, while reconciliation requires the participation of all parties involved in the conflict. It can only be based on mutual forgiveness. Reconciliation can only be built on truth and justice.”

The patron saint of Ukrainian-Polish reconciliation is St. John Paul II, who, in Lviv in 2001, noted that reconciliation is not about forgetting but about defeating the evil of the past so that “through the cleansing of historical memory, everyone is ready to put what unites above what divides.” His Beatitude Sviatoslav and Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki emphasized that it is important to remember his initiative and personal patronage at the beginning of this process.

At the end of the joint prayer, His Beatitude Sviatoslav conveyed his heartfelt thanks in which he noted that he is proud that the Catholic Church is the heart and driving force of the road of mutual reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing of the wounds of the past: “reconciliation between our peoples is a process of healing the wounds that both Poles and Ukrainians carry in their souls and consciences to this very day. Healing pain and trauma is not easy. But, as pastors, we have the balm of the Holy Spirit, which the Lord Jesus, our Savior, left to his apostles, to his Church. This balm, which truly heals wounds, is mutual dialogue, forgiveness, and reconciliation, as well as prayer — the presence of the Church as a good mother who embraces, accompanies, and keeps warm those who are frozen by this sense of pain or hatred,” said the Primate.

“Now we can build new relationships that are born before our eyes. We are forming a new memory, which, as Pope Francis says, is a positive memory. And I believe this is a gift from God that we must use to not remain slaves to the past but to build a better future,” the Head of the UGCC emphasized.

Today, commemorating the sorrowful anniversary will continue with a joint pilgrimage of reconciliation of His Beatitude Sviatoslav and Archbishop Stanislaw Gądetski from Warsaw to Lutsk. On July 8 and 9, services will be held in Volyn with the participation of Ukrainian and Polish bishops.

The UGCC Department for Information

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