Recently there was worldwide upheaval upon hearing that Jews were allegedly being forced to register in Eastern Ukraine. There were mixed reports that followed, including reports that it was all a hoax; of course, it’s difficult to know the truth when dealing with Russian news sources. However less-reported stories are leaking out that the Catholic Church in Crimea has been driven nearly completely out of the region by their new Russian handlers. This Catholic cleansing has gone relatively unreported and undeterred, causing many of Ukraine’s Greek Catholics to fear a return to the days of the underground church which existed from 1945 until 1989.
During the time of the Soviet Union’s rule of Ukraine the laws of the state refused to acknowledge or grant permission for practicing or promoting beliefs to any religious groups other than the state run church.
“Between 1946 and 1989, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) was the largest banned religious community in the world and endured hard experiences. The church of martyrs– so the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was named by its Head Metropolitan Iosyf Slipyi in his lecture devoted to the 35th anniversary of its persecution.”
During this period, the USSR sought to eradicate all traces of the UGCC and replace it with the state church known as the Russian Orthodox Church. According to several inside sources from Ukraine, “It was well known that the priest in the Russian Orthodox Church were all members of the KGB.” The KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopanosti) was Russia’s notorious secret spy agency, feared by all citizens of the USSR. Priest from the UGCC were arrested, imprisoned and deported to places deep inside the USSR. Many ended up in the well-known and much feared gulags of Siberia.
Although the USSR no longer exists, the Russian state still maintains that the only legal church in the state is the Russian Orthodox Church. All other churches are illegal and as such the Greek Catholics in Crimea are now facing liquidation as did their WWII parishioners, priests, and even monks. Currently, there are reports that only a hand full of parishioners and a few priests remain in the Crimea region. This is due to abduction, arson, violence, and threats to members of the UGCC.
Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh, secretary-general of the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops said,
“Greek Catholic communities like ours are denied rights in the Russian Federation, which we see as a violation of freedom of conscience and religion. We hoped these restrictions wouldn’t be applied to our church in Crimea, but we’ve been told all religious communities must now re-register there. This means the local government usurps the power to reject those it sees as a threat. After recent ethnic cleansing, this will amount to religious cleansing.”
According to the Catholic News Agency the story of kidnappings continue:
“Referring to the kidnapping of three Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests in Crimea by pro-Russian forces over the weekend, Fr. Zhdan stressed that one such case could be called a mistake, but that ‘multiple kidnappings are not an accident.’ Where is the outrage from the United States, Great Britain, and the rest of the world? These tactics mirror exactly the measures taken during the reign of Stalin. Members of Catholic clergy were frequently arrested and charged with being ‘SS Army’ or with supply arms to the resistance groups in Ukraine.”
According to Bishop Vasyl Ivasyuk, “This is not new. During Soviet times, we were always accused of being ‘agents’ of the Vatican. Of course, not all people in Crimea think we are spies, but there is a very active pro-Russian group there that does.”
Here in the U.S., Cardinal Dolan has shared his concern for his Catholic brethren in Ukraine.
“We Catholics in the United States cannot let these brave Ukrainians, whose allegiance to their religious convictions has survived ‘dungeon, fire, and sword,’ languish. They deserve our voices and our prayers. Nor can we as American citizens fail them, as we call for our government to stand with them.”
Reports that Catholics are being required to register by the Russians who have illegally invaded Crimea is alarming. When will the mainstream media stop ignoring the plight of Christians and only report stories of persecution they feel are news worthy?