Friday, February 21, 2014

Ukraine's priests provide protest inspiration

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They stand defiant before shield-wielding riot police, clutching gilded crosses and inspiring the freedom-seeking masses in Kiev’s Independence Square.

But the clergy of Ukraine are more than leaders of the protest that threatens to split the nation's troubled alliance with Russia. They are a link to Ukraine's historical independence, before the Russian Revolution led to the Soviet occupation that lasted until 1991 but still hovers above like a dark cloud. Amid the escalating violence, priests have been seen defying police, leading civilians safely past them and performing last rites on those killed in the clashes.

“They are there as pastors looking over their flocks,” Roksolana Stojko-Lozynskyj, of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, told “Although they are not in [an official] leadership [role], they are well-respected in the community."

Priests have even put up makeshift chapels in tents in the square, where crowds have been estimated in the tens of thousands.

Prior to nearly a century of Soviet domination, Ukraine was a deeply religious nation with historic ties to western Europe.

The strife has brought together Ukraine's major denominations, including the rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate and Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, as well as the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox and the Vatican-aligned Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches. The churches released a joint statement last month as unrest percolated in the square.

"There is still a need for political agreement to begin to live heeding the law of God and of man, while respecting the rights and dignity of citizens, and maintaining social cohesion,"

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