Pope Francis Receives Head of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

Meeting Follows Yesterday's Referendum in Crimea

Vatican City, (Zenit.org) | 2051 hits

Pope Francis today received in private audience His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc in Ukraine.

The meeting followed yesterdays referendum in which pro-Russian voters on the Crimean peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine. The United States and European Union have called the referendum illegal.

No details of todays meeting have been given but it is likely that the fate of the Ukrainian Catholic priests ministering in Crimea was discussed.

Over the weekend, a Ukrainian pastor was released after being taken captive from his church in Crimea. Father Mykola Kvych, pastor of the Dormition of the Mother of God Parish in Sevastopol, was taken from his church by two men in uniform and four men in civilian clothing, according to a Ukrainian Catholic Church spokesman.

Father Kvych and other priests in Crimea were urged to evacuate with their families to mainland Ukraine, but the priests returned to their parishes to be with their faithful during the crisis.

During his capture, Father Kvych was questioned on whether he had been organising anti-Russian riots. He is now understood to be in safe place, outside Crimea, but exact details of his whereabouts are unknown.

Ukrainian Catholics make up about 10 percent of Crimeas 2 million inhabitants; the majority of the people on the peninsula are ethnic Russians and speak Russian. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February and, in early March, Russian forces entered Crimea.

Crimean politicians say more than 96 percent of voters participating in the referendum on Sunday voted to secede from Ukraine. Members of the Crimean Parliament formally asked to join the Russian Federation on Monday.

Critics accuse Russia of not conducting a free vote as a region cannot usually unilaterally separate without the consent of the rest of the country. They also accuse Russia, which refuses to recognise the Ukrainian government, of abusing, torturing and threatening minorities such as Catholics, Tartars and Ukrainians.

Other audiences

Also today, the Pope received Archbishop Nicola Girasole, apostolic nuncio in Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, and Grenada.

 On Saturday, the Holy Father received in audience: Archbishop Orlando Antonini, apostolic nuncio in Serbia; Father Michael Anthony Perry, O.F.M., minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, with members of the General Definitory; and Fr. Saverio Cannistra, O.C.D., prepositor general of the Descalced Carmelites.