Ukrainian bishops lead protesters in prayer after night of police action in Kiev
Catholic News Service photo
People surround a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin, which was toppled by protesters during a Dec. 8 rally organized by the European Union integration in Independence Square in central Kiev, Ukraine. The protests began in late November when U krainian President Viktor Yanukovich announced the end of a process to bring Ukraine closer economically and legally to the European Union.
Catholic News Service
ROME — In the deep of the freezing night, security forces moved into Ukraine's Independence Square intent on dislodging protesters who had spent weeks talking, singing and praying for their country.
Members of the permanent synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church went to the square at 8 a.m. Dec. 11 to lead morning prayer, and -- at about 10:30 a.m. -- fear of a violent crackdown gave way to cheers as the police withdrew.
"This is tactical," said Ukrainian Bishop Borys Gudziak. "It's light outside now and evil likes darkness."
In a statement issued before dawn Dec. 11, when the police were still trying to clear out the demonstrators and bulldoze their tents and barricades, members of the synod issued a statement saying, "We are profoundly disturbed by the actions of the state security forces on the Maydan (Independence) Square in the heart of Kiev conducted under the cover of the night."
"We condemn the action directed toward restricting civil liberties, especially the freedom of expression and peaceful civic manifestation of the citizens of Ukraine," the bishops said in a statement released in English. "We declare our support and solidarity with all those on the Maydan Square who are standing with dignity and witnessing to the dignity of their fellow citizens and of the whole nation."
The bishops also expressed their prayers to God "for peace, justice and the triumph of truth for our people."
The general assembly of the students of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv issued a call Dec. 11 for all university students to consider acts of civil disobedience against the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
"Last night in Kiev, human blood was spilled again" as police "attacked peaceful demonstrators," the students said; Dec. 10 is celebrated as World Human Rights Day, but in Ukraine, they said, it turned into "the day of cruelty against peaceful people."
When Bishop Gudziak addressed the crowds in Independence Square Dec. 8, he focused on the youth and told them they could change the country.
The U.S.-born bishop and former rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University currently serves as the bishop for Ukrainian Catholics in France and was in Kiev for the synod meeting.
Bishop Gudziak was not the only prelate at the large Dec. 8 demonstration. Retired Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the 80-year-old former head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, spoke from the main stage early in the morning. The protest area includes a tent chapel where liturgy is celebrated, Bishop Gudziak said, and Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant clergy have been assisting the demonstrators.
"It's very much a spiritual movement, a movement of hearts and values," Bishop Gudziak told Catholic News Service Dec. 9. Speaking by telephone from Kiev, he said the protesters want "a country where corruption doesn't reign, where a mother doesn't have to pay a bribe to get a doctor for her child, where students don't have to pay bribes to get into university."
Corrupt politicians, he said, are getting rich, while the population gets poorer and more people try to emigrate in search of work.
The protests began in late November when President Yanukovich announced the end of a process to bring Ukraine closer economically and legally to the European Union. The students had seen the move toward Europe as a sign of "hope that things would change, that the rule of law would be instituted," Bishop Gudziak said.
"The reneging on the promises he had been making for two years was an incredible betrayal," the bishop said.
The demonstrations grew in strength after a police crackdown Nov. 30 left dozens of people injured.
"The wanton violence -- with no apologies, no one fired or even suspended, no sanctions" -- made Ukrainians believe they had to act, Bishop Gudziak said. The police action "gave new life to a protest movement that was fizzling."
As the bishop spoke, he said police were beginning to circle the area around the demonstrations, leading to fears of a new violent crackdown.
The BBC reported early Dec. 10 that police were dismantling barricades raised by the protesters near government buildings. The opposition Fatherland Party claimed security forces had entered its offices and seized computer equipment, shutting down the party's website.
Many of the protesters believed Yanukovich withdrew from the European Union association agreement in preparation for a new trade agreement with Russia. In reaction, some protesters toppled a statue of Vladimir Lenin in central Kiev.
At the Dec. 8 rally, Bishop Gudziak read the story of the healing of Jairus' daughter from Luke 8. The passage, he said, "tells of people who were suspicious, cynical or afraid" and Jesus tells them, "Don't be afraid, she will rise again."
The bishop encouraged the protesters to continue their peaceful demonstration: "I told them the whole world is watching you with admiration: your smiles, your dedication, your fortitude in the cold, your determination, your songs."
He said he told them that with peaceful protests, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were able to change entire continents, and "you can change the country."