Picture: AFP Photo/Dimitar Dilkoff
A Ukrainian Catholic priest in Crimea said church members are alarmed and frightened by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities might be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent.Father Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a pastor in Kerch, Ukraine, described the atmosphere as tense because many residents of the town located in the eastern part of Crimea were unsure of their future."No one knows what will happen. Many people are trying to sell their homes and move to other parts of Ukraine," Father Milchakovskyi toldCatholic News Service March 12."Our church has no legal status in the Russian Federation, so it's uncertain which laws will be applied if Crimea is annexed. We fear our churches will be confiscated and our clergy arrested," the priest said amid tensions over a planned March 16 referendum on whether the autonomous territory should join Russia or remain in Ukraine.Father Milchakovskyi said the Ukrainian Catholic Church's leader, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, had pledged "prayers and support" if fellow-Catholics "found themselves in danger." However, he added that his church feared Russian rule would inflict a "new oppression" on Ukrainian Catholics, whose five communities traditionally make up about 10 percent of Crimean peninsula's 2 million inhabitants."Many have already stopped coming to church, after being branded nationalists and fascists by local provocateurs," Father Milchakovskyi said."The Orthodox have always insisted they're dominant here and done everything to make life unpleasant for us. If they're now given a free hand, we don't know whether they'll behave like Christians or follow the same unfriendly policy," he said.Under Soviet rule, from 1946 to 1989, the Eastern-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed. The strongest members lived their faith clandestinely, while others attended an Orthodox church or no church at all. The government confiscated all church property, giving some buildings to the Orthodox and putting other buildings to secular uses.In January, Archbishop Shevchuk said Ukraine's now-ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, had threatened to ban the Ukrainian Catholic Church because of its support for pro-Western opposition protests. However, Leonid Novokhatko, Ukraine's former culture minister, denied that Yanukovych planned to ban the church.
Source: Catholic News Service