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Bishop Peter Stasiuk: Ukrainian people want peace and justice
This is the homily given by Bishop Peter Stasiuk, Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholics, at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, after the Putin government's attempt to annex Crimea from Ukraine. It came before leaders of all major churches in Ukraine called on Russia to withdraw its military forces from Ukrainian territory.
I would like to acknowledge and welcome all our guests who have gathered here to pray for peace and justice in Ukraine.
Ukraine is a multicultural country which is home to people of most faiths and traditions that we find in Australia. It has lived in harmony with these people despite a very difficult history of occupation, oppression, and persecution.
The major faiths of Ukraine came with the introduction of Christianity into Ukrainian lands first by St Andrew the Apostle, and then the acceptance of the Byzantine tradition from Constantinople by St Volodymyr the Great in 988.
Ukraine's history of faith has shaped the Ukrainian nation, its own spirituality, personality, and culture.
In other words, Ukraine is a deeply religious nation. The revolution on the Maidan [Independence Square] was different and effective. Where else would you see members of the clergy, of all ranks and all faiths, stand in the midst of gunfire and violence between the people and the authorities. It became very hard to perform violent acts when the speakers at top volume carried the prayers of church leaders.
Jesus said "My own peace, I give you a peace the world cannot give."
We are gathered in prayer for peace and justice in Ukraine, but in fact we are praying for peace and justice in our own hearts.
The Maidan in Kyiv was strong and effective because it was one body, united in the grace of God, standing in prayer for peace, justice, unity and a compassion that the world cannot give. It is a gift from God. That is why, as Jesus promises, our hearts will not be troubled or afraid for God is with us.
As today's gospel reminds us, Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit which will give us the peace we desire.
We heard so very often on the Maidan that God is with his people. We understand that to mean that we, each of us, individually and collectively, are temples of the Holy Spirit.
We are a sacred nation. Our demands for democracy, freedom from oppression, financial responsibility, an opportunity to work for a just wage, and an escape from corruption are all principles that come from the fact that the Holy Spirit lives in our soul [so] we are a people of God. It is what we call in the secular world, human rights.
People have rights any place that they may be in the world, no system, government, dictatorship or gang can or should take them away from the people. These are God-given "gifts". Receiving these gifts and enjoying them is called peace because justice is present.
Earlier I did mention that these prayers tonight were actually prayers for ourselves. That is true.
A nation is nothing more than the sum total of all its citizens. You have a nation when all or most of its citizens are united in the Holy Spirit. When the people are in the mind of God, then they speak as one, and achieve what their heart and soul desire. They can, in their unity with God, achieve goals that the rest of the world can only marvel at. Ukraine is that kind of nation.
In 1991, it achieved independence without an ounce of blood being shed. The same happened 10 years ago in the Orange Revolution. We mourn the violence of the last few days and thank God that it was not worse.
The fact that more force and violence was not used is also a sign of the strength of the Ukrainian spiritual character. Many nations might have sent in the army or started a civil war to resolve their political problems. It is so pleasing [to see] the basic human goodness of both sides, even though one wishes that it should have not got to this.
Ukraine is not alone in its spiritual strength. Most nations of the world have this.
It is there because individuals are strongly united in their faith and spirituality.
We can be most effective today if our prayers are for ourselves and our communities in Australia. A prayer which would plead that we never lose our own sense of sacredness through our unity with God. That we never lose our respect for one another and realise that we in God are actually all children of the same God. Children who are equally loved by Him.
Yes, God Bless Ukraine, its people, grant it its hopes and dreams. Bless us O Lord as well, we are all members of this same family and have a common Father. Our heart yearns for the same thing.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 3 (April 2014), p. 7
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