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When Pope Benedict XVI confirmed his election as major archbishop by the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in March 2011, Archbishop Sviatoslav found himself in an intermediary role between the Orthodox East and Catholic West. He describes this role as a “special vocation ... to witness the unity of the church of Christ.” Catholics, he adds, believe the successor of St. Peter, as a bridge builder, is a visible sign from Christ. Aiding in this vocation is Archbishop Sviatoslav’s relationship with Pope Francis, who as the archbishop of Buenos Aires had mentored him when he was named bishop in Buenos Aires in 2009 — the youngest Catholic bishop in the world, at that time.

Yet current circumstances also present grave challenges. The ongoing war in Ukraine’s east has stoked tensions along ethnic, linguistic, national and even religious lines, despite the common heritage the churches of Ukraine and Russia share in Constantinople.

“These are very difficult, painful situations,” the archbishop says, adding that to promote his “message of reconciliation,” the Greek Catholic Church regularly holds services to pray for the intentions of all those affected, including “those who consider us their enemies.”

“We have to stop the war. We have to do everything to prevent further escalation of that aggression. We have to stop bloodshed between our nations.”

The urgency of this mission has also brought his church closer to other Eastern churches, such as those of Syria and Iraq. “We cooperate and share our thoughts, our experiences — how to serve this new, difficult world, especially in conditions of war,” he says. “We have much in common.”

Witness, he stresses, remains a crucial task for Christians.

“We’re supposed to express our solidarity with those who suffer, and it’s important to be a voice for those nations who are now under direct aggression.” By the same measure, what is happening in Ukraine, he emphasizes, must not be a “forgotten, silent war.”

And solidarity, Archbishop Sviatoslav adds, is but one of the four core values of the church’s social teaching. “Dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity, this is the common ground of ecumenical social action.”

In accordance with his mission, Archbishop Sviatoslav must keep a keen eye fixed on such commonalities all Christians share.

“They have the same sins, the same hopes, the same anxieties, but also all have the same need for joy and hope of Christian life.”

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Mark Raczkiewycz is editor at large for the Kyiv Post in Ukraine. His work has appeared in the The Financial Times, The Irish Times and Jane’s Intelligence, among other places.

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