PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, MAN. – Catholic and Orthodox churches in Canada and the United States can be an example for their counterparts in Ukraine, said Canada's top Ukrainian Orthodox leader.
Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Yurij of Winnipeg, addressing the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops Sept. 10, told the bishops it was "evident that our God is blessing us and helping us develop this better relationship."
"We also pray that in Ukraine this same attitude will develop as well," he said at the first meeting of the synod.
Metropolitan Yurij told several dozen Ukrainian Catholic bishops that the North American Catholic and Orthodox bishops have worked through the "animosity" that once marked relations between their churches, and they now collaborate.
"In Ukraine, they have to go through the same kind of process," he said, and the bishops outside Ukraine must be patient with their brothers.
While the majority of Ukrainians are Orthodox, they are divided into three churches: one in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, one with a patriarch in Kiev and the third known as the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The forced unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1940's "is one of the principal problems," the metropolitan said.
The 2010 election of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a member of the Orthodox Church in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, appears to have fueled long-standing tensions between Orthodox loyal to Moscow and those who support an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
Metropolitan Yurij did not mention politicians. However, he did note that the Russian-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the only one canonically recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the elected head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, told Metropolitan Yurij he often finds himself caught in the middle of the delicate situation in Ukraine.
Shevchuk deals with leaders of all three Ukrainian Orthodox churches – for instance, each Orthodox Church sent representatives to his March 2011 installation.
Yet every time he has contact with someone from one of the noncanonical Ukrainian Orthodox churches, "right away a letter goes from Moscow to Rome" asking why the Ukrainian Catholic Church is collaborating with them.
"Directly or indirectly . . . I end up being a kind of a go-between between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church," he said.