Poroshenko honours Ukraine Church leader derided by Russia

GMT 21:49 2015 Wednesday ,29 July

Arab Today, arab today Poroshenko honours Ukraine Church leader derided by Russia

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Lviv - AFP

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday unveiled a monument to a Catholic Church leader derided by Moscow for initially welcoming Nazi soldiers during World War II.

Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky lead the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for more than four decades and was always lionised by the nationalist west part of the oft fought-over east European state.

Sheptytsky died in 1944 just as Moscow's Red Army had once again taken full control of Ukrainian territory and quashed its remaining independence dreams.

"The best possible memorial to the Metropolitan would be the independence of Ukraine," Poroshenko told a crowd of 10,000 in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

"Today, we are finally putting the historical record straight," he said moments after the veil was lifted from the 3.6-metre (12-foot) statue of the controversial but widely-revered religious leader.

Sheptytsky has always been portrayed as a traitorous villain by Soviet textbooks for his initial support of Nazi soldiers and ardent backing of Ukrainian sovereignty in the decade preceding the war.

He was arrested by Soviet security agents in the wake of Russia's 1917 revolution and kept under constant watch after his release.

But he has been exonerated by both the Vatican and the Yad Vashem centre for Holocaust research in Jerusalem.

Yad Vashem notes that Sheptytsky "helped dozens of Jews find refuge in his monasteries and even in his own home.

"At the same time, however, he supported the German army as the saviour of the Ukrainians from the Soviets, and endorsed the formation of a Ukrainian division within the (Nazi) SS," the Jerusalem centre says.

Pope Francis this month proclaimed Sheptytsky "venerable" -- a designation that opens the door to his eventual sainthood.

"I am delighted and very grateful to Pope Francis (for recognising) the Metropolitan on the 150th anniversary of his birth," said Poroshenko.

- Culture clash -

Ukraine is a largely conservative nation split between followers of various Orthodox Churches as well as Protestants and Catholics.
The Russian Orthodox Church wields most of its influence in eastern Ukraine -- an industrial region shattered by 15 months of separatist fighting that has claimed more than 6,800 lives.

Poroshenko has spearheaded Ukraine's drive westward since coming to power in the wake of last year's ouster of a Kremlin-backed president who himself was a member of a Moscow-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The tilt away from Russia has included attempts to introduce Western values and restore the nation's more multifaceted approach to religion and tolerance of various faiths.

Poroshenko has also irked Russia by unveiling monuments and backing the causes of some war-era figures who -- if only briefly -- viewed the Nazis as Ukraine's liberators from the Soviet Union's dictatorial rule.

Sheptytsky's resonating appeal in western Ukraine also underscores the wide gap splinting that mostly rural part of the country from the Russian-speaking industrial east that is now being torn apart by war.

"I came here today to pray for Ukraine and for peace," said Lviv native Oksana Pavliv at the sun-drenched unveiling ceremony.

"I am sure that Sheptytsky will be canonised soon," the middle-aged Church member told AFP.



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