Rowan Williams travels to Ukraine to welcome those displaced by Russian attacks
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, joins other religious leaders in a ‘friendship and solidarity’ visit to Ukraine, to comfort war victims and help boost morale.
“The goal is very modest: we simply want to affirm our solidarity with the victims of this appalling war, and to express our thanks for the courage shown by the Ukrainian people, in the hope that we can at least let them know that they are not forgotten,” Lord Williams told the Church hours Monday.
“We also hope to learn a bit more about the conditions of refugees in the area we are visiting, and more generally about how people on the ground perceive the situation.
Lord Williams spoke ahead of Tuesday’s visit to Chernivtsi, near Ukraine’s western border with Romania, which is currently home to at least 70,000 war refugees, many in dire conditions, according to news agencies. ‘aid.
He said the initiative for the visit came from the director of the Interfaith Elijah Institute in Israel, Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, with planning assistance from local government officials, but said religious leaders would not be the guests of the kyiv government.
“We are mainly traveling on a personal basis, although I am leaving with the knowledge and support of the Archbishop of Canterbury and representing him informally,” Lord Williams said.
“We plan to meet with local religious leaders, who will share the planned event. But we don’t want to be seen as parachuting in with our own ideas and agendas at the expense of local experience.
The visit will come as Russia is massing tens of thousands of troops for a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, after being repelled with heavy casualties in areas around the capital, where Ukrainian officials say the remains of more than 1,200 dead civilians have been recovered. last week.
It also follows weekend visits to Kyiv by Boris Johnson; the President of the European Commission, Dr Ursula von der Leyen; and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, who also visited the city of Bucha.
A statement from the Religions for Peace coalition, which is sponsoring the visit, said Lord Williams would be joined by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, chairman of the London-based Council of Christians and Jews, and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Nikitas Lulias of Thyateira and Great Britain, as well as the Minister General of the RC Franciscan Order, Fr. Massimo Fusarelli, and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders from various countries.
The coalition, which is active in more than 90 countries, said a public meeting with refugees and religious leaders would be broadcast live “across Ukraine and the world” from the previously closed Chernivtsi Main Theatre.” in tribute to the bombing of Mariupol”.
He said the “friendship and solidarity mission” was seen as the first of an interfaith delegation to a country at war.
The visit comes after comments from Lord Williams’ interview on Radio 4 Sunday April 3 program, supporting calls for the exclusion of the Russian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches because of its position during the war in Ukraine (News, April 8).
In his Church hours interview, Lord Williams, who is Russian-speaking and an expert in Orthodoxy, said he had received “generally sympathetic” responses from listeners, including Russian Orthodox Christians in Britain, including “anxiety over in solitary confinement” was growing.
He said, however, that he had been “rightly reminded” that the Moscow Patriarchate should not be identified “with the full range of Russian Orthodox jurisdictions” outside of Russia, some of which had criticized its support for the war.
“Anecdotal reports suggest that a small but significant number of Russian clergy, particularly in large urban contexts where Western news still pervades, are deeply concerned and very unhappy with the patriarchal position, but fear to speak out, given the sanctions draconian threats against anyone who questions the official Russian account of events,” said Lord Williams.
He continued: “The recent history of the Patriarchate’s expansionist and triumphalist rhetoric and action towards other parts of the Orthodox world has already alienated many. In fact, the Church on the ground is far from monolithic: not everyone thinks that Russian Orthodox identity is linked to national messianism and theocratic mythologies.
Christian church leaders have made repeated appeals to Patriarch Cyril to condemn the war and urge a ceasefire since the February 24 Russian invasion (Comment, March 18; News, April 8).
In his last sermon on Sunday, in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, the Patriarch, however, called on the Russians to “unite around the authorities in this difficult period for our homeland”, to win “genuine solidarity and the ability to push back the and internal enemies”.
Preaching on the occasion of the Orthodox feast of the Annunciation on April 7, he said that “dangerous processes” were taking place in Ukraine, because “the enemy of the human race is causing quarrels between brothers, members of the same Church, belonging to the same Orthodox community”. Faith”.
The patriarch said that satanic “external forces” sought to destroy and divide the “spiritual unity of the Russian land”, and that Russians were now fighting to preserve the Orthodox faith in Ukraine and protect its people from “schisms and division”.
“We must first pray for the preservation of peace on Ukrainian land and the preservation of the unity of our Church, so that the Orthodox Church does not suffer damage, and above all that no false teaching violates its holiness,” the Russian patriarch told his Moscow. congregation.
He continued: “There is nothing more despicable, terrible and disgusting than the provocation of internal conflicts – but very often people under the strong pressure of propaganda lose their sense of life and are so caught up in the net of the devil that they cannot distinguish truth from lies and are ready to act at the instigation of the evil one.
Lord Williams said he still hoped a ceasefire could be arranged for Orthodox Passover, which falls on April 24 – a week after the Western holiday – so that “the feast of feasts is not overshadowed by the horrors of bombings and massacres”.
“I hesitate to make predictions about what will happen until I have seen and heard more on the ground: no one knows what, if anything, other than the erasure of Ukrainian national identity, that the President Putin considers it negotiable,” he said..
“Right now, the odds seem to be of an interminable and inconclusive conflict, with more and more casualties on both sides. The question is whether the time will come when some in Russia decide that the price, internal and external, of aggression is unbelievably high. So I hope and pray; but it won’t come soon.