December 23, 2013

KYIV, UKRAINE – Bishops from Ukraine's minority Latin-rite Catholic Church have called for prayers and fasting in an effort to end the current social unrest in the country.

Catholic social teaching recognizes the right of citizens to courageously defend their legitimate concerns, said a statement from the bishops' conference read in parishes Dec. 15.

As for the government's reaction, they said, "restricting human rights, especially the right to express views freely, is unacceptable and disgraceful."

The letter was read as supporters and opponents of President Viktor Yanukovych held rival rallies in Kyiv, three weeks after his withdrawal from a landmark deal with the European Union sparked mass protests.

The bishops called on all Catholic parishes to pray for "peace, justice, truth and honesty," and to hold a day of fasting Dec. 16 as "a sign of solidarity with our brothers and sisters."

Meanwhile, the conference's vice president, Archbishop Petro Malchuk of Kyiv-Zhytomyr, said it was natural for Ukrainians to "strive for better things," but added that it should also be remembered the country was "multiethnic and multiconfessional."

"No perfect state system has been invented - but nor has anyone thought up a better system than the Western one," Malchuk said in a Dec. 14 Catholic News Service interview.

Meanwhile, religious leaders attended Dec. 13 roundtable talks on national unity in the capital.

Addressing the session, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, urged the president "to hear the Ukrainians' aspirations for European integration."

The archbishop urged the government not to address society "in the language of guns."

Authorities, he said, must stop "persecuting students" involved in the protests, including members of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.