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Easter in the Trenches

Eastern Christianity, which follows the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Easter significantly later than the Western Church, which adheres to the Gregorian calendar. 

Amid these joyful festivities, many Eastern Christians observe Easter amidst conflict, particularly in the Holy Land and Ukraine. 

In the Holy Land, the Christians experiencing these hardships are a minority. In contrast, in Ukraine, where the majority of the population is Christian, many soldiers are isolated and forced to fight in the trenches. 

Instead of celebrating Easter with their families, they observe it with their fellow service members. This reality affects both sides of the war, as both Russians and Ukrainians are predominantly Orthodox. 

Against this backdrop, Pope Francis has consistently called for peace, stating that war represents a universal failure. On Easter Sunday, he delivered the solemn "Urbi et Orbi" blessing, urging for peace worldwide.  

"Do not give in to the logic of arms and rearmament," he exhorted. 

The Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine recognizes the Pope as the Supreme Pontiff but follows the Orthodox Liturgy. 

The head of the Greek Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, faces the realities of war daily. In March, he shared his experiences in an exclusive interview with Catherine Hadro of EWTN News.  

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, told EWTN News, "I, from the very beginning, completely entrusted myself, my life into God's hand, saying, Lord, let your will be done. If you want me alive, it means that I have to serve your people." 

*Can you speak about what Pope Francis has said and his role in bringing peace to Ukraine? *

"Well, the Holy Father, the successor of Peter from the very beginning of the Christianity, was a supreme arbiter of the Christian world. 

"And his position always was supra partes, which means over those who are fighting among them. 

"I have to be sincere with you that this neutrality of the Vatican was not very well received in Ukraine in the beginning because how can somebody be neutral when there is an aggressor who is killing us constantly each day? But then we, as Catholics, are trying to evangelize our people, explaining the specific role of the Holy Father as a supreme arbiter of the world. 

This neutrality was given as an instrument of searching to alleviate the suffering of the people and, probably in the future, some sort of channels of communication for a possible peace agreement. 

*The Vatican's high-profile peace mission has been criticized as potentially failing. But Cardinal Paroline endorsed Zelensky's ten-point plan late last year. Is there an update on what impact that might have? *

"The ten points of the peace formula of the president was a roadmap and of course, the Holy See cannot endorse all points of this peace formula, but perhaps an issue of food security, an issue of humanitarian assistance, an issue of ecology and many others the Holy see can endorse and as its commitment to be with us and cooperate to implement this peace plan of our president." 

*You mentioned earlier those Ukrainian children who were kidnapped and taken to Russia. Is the Vatican's plan to reunite them with their families, is that continuing quietly? *

"The apostolic nunciature in Moscow and in Kiev are coordinating the efforts, verifying the list of the names of those children, trying to do everything which is possible to reunite those children with their families." 

*Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican said Pope Francis doesn't have a planned visit to Ukraine yet. But do you think that is a possibility? *

"Well, we are praying for the visit of the Holy Father to Ukraine. We were asking and pleading with the Holy Father to visit us at the very beginning of the war because the people of Ukraine had some sort of mystical feeling when the Pope came, the war would stop. Is it realistic? I don't know. But Catholics of Ukraine and simply people of Ukraine are waiting for the visit of the Holy Father."  

Adapted by Jacob Stein

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Author Name

Alexey Gotovskiy has worked at the EWTN Vatican Bureau as a journalist, TV Producer & Manager for the last 7 years. He was born in the Soviet Union, grew up in Russia, was raised in Kazakhstan, and received his graduate level education in Church Communications at the Roman Pontifical University of Holy Cross. He produced the EWTN Vatican Bureau’s flagship program “VATICANO” for 5 years and over 200 episodes covering the Universal Church and Vatican. He was on the papal flight representing EWTN on Pope Francis’ historic trip to Iraq. He speaks 6 languages and is passionate about the former Soviet world and building a bridge between the West and East.

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