Warsaw: a new chapter in Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation
By Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik - Warsaw
In his introduction to the service, Archbishop Gądecki stressed: "It is impossible to reach unity without reference to the truth and without calling the genocide of the Polish population in Volhynia by name." He also noted that "for an effective and lasting reconciliation process, the truth about this genocide should find a place in the educational programs of Poland and Ukraine."
Emphasizing the importance of the process of reconciliation and forgiveness, he said: " We ask for forgiveness first of all from the heavenly Father because He suffers most when His children, although they have become brothers and sisters through baptism, inflict pain on each other and even kill the innocent. His fatherly love, revealed in Jesus Christ, our Savior, heals our wounds and enables us to forgive."
Message of reconciliation
Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, on behalf of the Polish Bishops' Conference, and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, on behalf of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, signed a joint message of reconciliation.
They state in it that the Russian aggression against Ukraine "makes us realize anew that reconciliation between our peoples and collaboration between a free Poland and a free Ukraine are essential conditions for peace in our part of Europe (...) Otherwise, the quarterback will always be 'the third one,'" the document's authors stress.
Indeed, the task of reconciliation is not about forgetting but about overcoming the evils of the past so that "everyone will be ready to place higher what unites than what divides," the archbishops noted, referring to the words of St. John Paul II, spoken in Lviv in 2001.
Church representatives also appealed: "Today, after the discovery of mass graves in Bucza, Irpin, or Hostoml, we all understand how important it is to unequivocally name the perpetrators, exhume the victims, and respect their right to a dignified burial and human memory."
"I forgive and ask for forgiveness"
At the end of the liturgy, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said: "The Volhynian crime is an experience that is a tragedy on both sides. And the Polish and Ukrainian sides have their traumas, their wounds resulting from the suffering they experienced. (...) Saint Pope John Paul II spoke of forgiveness as a pain-soothing balm that spills over our wounds. We should constantly tell each other: I forgive and ask for forgiveness. This process must be bilateral - both from the Polish and Ukrainian sides," he pointed out.
The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church stressed: "What happened last year when Poles opened their hearts, their homes to refugees from Ukraine, is something extraordinary. Previous resentments have gone away, and the possibility of personal friendships has come in their place. I can say the same for the Ukrainian side. The Ukrainian people feel that Poles are their best friends."
The service was attended by Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic bishops from Poland and the President of the Polish Bishops' Conference of Ukraine, Bishop Vitaly Skomarovskyi.
Pilgrimage of reconciliation
Following the ceremony in Warsaw, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Presidents of the Polish and Ukrainian Episcopates will go on a pilgrimage of forgiveness and reconciliation to Volhynia.
On Saturday, Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki will preside over a Mass and deliver a homily at Parosla First near Vladimir, where in February 1943, a unit of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army murdered an estimated 150 Poles, a crime that is considered the beginning of the Volhynian crime.
On Sunday, at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Lutsk, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, Bishop Vitaly Skomarovsky, and Epiphanius, Metropolitan of Kyiv and head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, led by Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, will hold a memorial service in Ukrainian and Polish for the victims of the Volhynian massacre.
In Volhynia (present-day Ukraine, and before World War II, Polish territory) and in that region, in more than 1,860 towns and villages, Polish civilians were massacred between 1943 and 1945. It is estimated that about 60-80 thousand Poles were murdered.
The perpetrators of the Volhynian Crime - the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists Stepan Bandera faction (OUN-B) and its armed arm, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), in their documents referred to the planned extermination of the Polish population as an "anti-Polish action." There are also testimonies about Ukrainians, who helped their Polish neighbors when their lives were threatened.