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Catholic bishop in Odessa urges world to condemn Russia

Malo Tresca - La Civiltà Cattolica - Fri, Jul 28th 2023

Exclusive interview with Bishop Mykhaylo Bubniy, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odessa, after the bombing of the city's Orthodox cathedral

Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral in Odessa, badly damaged after a Russian bombardment. On July 23, 2023, local residents attend an outdoor Divine Liturgy.(Photo by JAE C. HONG/AP)

The people of Odessa, the Black Sea port city in southern Ukraine, are still reeling from the intense Russian bombing last weekend that destroyed a number of cultural sites. Among them was the Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration, a UNESCO world heritage site. 

One person was killed and 22 others – including four children – were wounded in that attack on the historic church.And this has angered even the city's Catholic leaders.

"In the name of justice, I call on nternational community to strongly condemn Russia's crimes, and I call on all those with influence – political, military, etc. – in the game of global dialogue to come out against these attacks," said Bishop Mykhaylo Bubniy, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odessa, during this exclusive interview with La Croix's Malo Tresca.

La Croix: What was your reaction to the partial destruction of Odessa's Transfiguration Cathedral by a Russian strike on Sunday, July 23?

Bishop Mykhaylo Bubniy: We were all shocked. The people of Odessa took it as a real provocation, and it's difficult to express our feelings in words...

This cathedral, which belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church historically attached to the Patriarchate of Moscow, had been destroyed by Stalin's communist regime in 1936. Then, in the 1990s and 2000s, it was completely rebuilt from the ruins by Odessa-area faithful and entrepreneurs. For the locals, it's a spiritual jewel... which was, moreover, listed as a UNESCO heritage site.

During the attack on the night of July 22, 61 buildings and 146 apartments were damaged in addition to the Transfiguration Cathedral. This is further proof that Russia no longer even cares about its cultural heritage or its faithful – even though the building was consecrated in 2010 by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Of course, we feel sorry for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But we also regret that its believers have been blinded by Russian propaganda for so long. It's a difficult subject, and it takes a lot of time and work to bring them back to reality.

Have other churches or religious buildings belonging to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church also been affected since the start of the war?

Yes, unfortunately, several of our churches have been damaged by bombing by Russian troops. I'm thinking in particular of a church in southern Ukraine, in the village of Shevchenkove, in the Mykolaiv Oblast (province), and several others in the Kherson Oblast - in the city of Kherson itself, but also in the villages of Beryslav, Antonivka and Chornobaivka. Most of these churches were not seriously damaged, but rather indirectly hit by missile shrapnel, which caused some damage.

Several of our parishes are also still occupied on the left bank of the Dnieper River (Kherson), where our priests and faithful are in constant danger.

What is daily life like for the civilians of Odessa, now under bombardment, and what do the local Christian communities need most?

It's worth remembering that three regions of our exarchate -- Odessa, Mykolaiv and Kherson -- are permanently under fire. It's particularly difficult to stand firm, when strikes and rockets pound apartment blocks every night.

But Ukraine is an inherently optimistic nation, and many of us have already got used to living, working and helping others in this wartime regime. Many of our faithful have left for western Ukraine or abroad, realizing that they would otherwise be the first targets of the occupying authorities.

But thanks to the important social work of our Greek Catholic Church (attached to Rome and representing 8% of the population, editor's note) on behalf of the wounded and needy, new believers have also come to us. For example, there are faithful who used to belong to the Orthodox Church attached to the Moscow Patriarchate who have decided to leave this institution, whose true face they say they have seen in the wake of Moscow's offensive.

Today, our communities still need humanitarian and financial support in order to continue their work. Particularly our priests, who constantly expose themselves to mortal danger by helping out in our region.

How can Christian hope help through this ordeal?

Thanks to the fact that we continue to pray, meet in our parishes and organize spiritual training courses, our faithful are not losing heart. The Christian faith is one of the pillars that supports the entire Ukrainian people today.

But in the name of justice, I call on the international community to strongly condemn Russia's crimes, and I call on all those with influence -- political, military, etc. -- in the game of global dialogue to come out against these attacks. Today, Ukraine is bleeding, and our soldiers are forming a human shield to stop Russian aggression, thereby protecting Europe and its values: democracy, freedom of expression and the rule of law.

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