Зустріч духівництва РКЦ у Севастополі. 8 лютого 2017 року
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“Love of enemies does not mean supporting their actions”: life of the Roman Catholic Church in the occupied Crimea

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The Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula more than eight years ago spelled major changes to the lives of all strata of society in the region without exception. In addition to forcibly imposing its citizenship on local residents, the occupying state has extended its legal field over the occupied territory, forcing both individuals and legal entities to conduct their activities in accordance with its laws. The majority of branches of religious organizations were no exception; their members had to accept new rules of the game in order not to lose not only parish property and communities as such, but also an essential component of their identity.

The Crimean parishes of the Roman Catholic Church (hereinafter referred to as the RCC), which includes about 1.3 billion believers worldwide, found themselves in a difficult situation. The head of this church, the Pope, is also the head of the Vatican, an independent tiny state located on the territory of Italy, which, like all European states, has not recognized the “Russian” status of the occupied Crimea. In particular, this decision was confirmed in 2014 by the then Apostolic Nuncio (Ambassador of the Vatican) in Ukraine, Archbishop Thomas Edward Gullickson. Based on his statement, the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese of the RCC decided to maintaining its structure on the peninsula. In March 2017, his successor, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, answering journalists’ questions about whether Crimea is the territory of Ukraine from the point of view of the Apostolic See, assured that the Holy See, in accordance with international law, does not recognize any changes in borders and violations of the territorial integrity of the state.

With the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February-March 2014, the leading religious leaders of Ukraine expressed themselves clearly and unambiguously on this matter. Some of the most decisive were representatives of the Catholic Church of both rites – Eastern and Western. In particular, the assistant bishop of Kyiv-Zhytomyr at that time, Stanislav Shirokoradiuk, called the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine “the devil’s revenge for the beginning of the cleansing of the Ukrainian land from the signs of the devil and from all the evil that reigned in it.”

Jacek Pyl, assistant bishop of the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese of the RCC, Delegate of the Pastoral District of the RCC in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol

On February 26, 2014, on the day when clashes between pro-Ukrainian activists and supporters of the idea of  secession of Crimea from Ukraine in favor of Russia took place outside the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Simferopol during a rally of thousands of people, the assistant bishop of the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese of the RCC Jacek Pyl, who continuously serves on the peninsula since 2013, made a statement in which he said that, for several weeks, the RCC had been praying for a peaceful solution to the problems facing Ukraine and adopting a voluntary fast on bread and water in this intention. With the emergence of a tense situation in Crimea, special prayers were offered for the peninsula and for all its inhabitants, regardless of their religion, origin and political views. “We pray that people who have lived in peace for decades will not raise their hands against each other today; we pray to prevent the bloodshed that happened on the Kyiv Maidan. I call on everyone, both believers and non-believers, in the name of solidarity with the legacy of our parents who took care of the development of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC), to refrain from extremism, and in these difficult moments not to allow the fraternal bond between people living in Crimea to be broken. Ukrainians, Russians, Crimean Tatars, people with Armenian, Polish, German, Czech and other roots live next to each other in ARC. For centuries, our peninsula lived in harmony and peace: Orthodox, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Karaites, representatives of other faiths and non-believers – and today we will not allow our origin or the faith we profess to divide us. We are children of the One God who is our Father. The slogan of Crimea written on the emblem is the words “Prosperity in unity”. Let them remain our motto even in difficult times. With my word, I also want to appeal to the believers so that they do not stop praying for peace, and those who can, voluntarily fast. May the Good God free our hearts from all temptations to evil, and bless our good intentions”, – was said in the text of the statement. In two days, when Crimea was already de facto occupied by Russian troops, Bishop Jacek became one of the signatories of a statement of similar content, issued by members of the Inter-confessional Council of Crimea “Peace is God’s Gift”, which has been active on the peninsula since 1992 and to which he is a member. In the interview, the bishop noted that external interference in the affairs of Ukraine “constitutes a danger to the world”, and emphasized that the RCC does not take political positions and does not support any party, but only wants to call for dialogue and a peaceful solution to any problems.

The address of the assistant bishop of the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese of the RCC Jacek Pyl during the separatist riots in Crimea. February 26, 2014

On March 12, 2014, the then bishop of the Odesa-Simferopol RCC, Bronislav Bernatsky, noted that speaking out about the political situation in the country “is not a usual thing” for his church, however, as a citizen of Ukraine and the bishop of the diocese that includes Crimea, he could not remain indifferent during the Russian invasion of our country. According to bishop Bronislav, Crimea, where people of many different nationalities lived in peace and harmony, has become a place of popular hatred and conflicts. The source of hope for changes in Ukraine, which appeared in early 2014, became a reason for the fury of the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, who cannot allow the Ukrainian people to build a new, more just society. “Russian troops entered the territory of Ukraine without any reason. At the same time, many citizens of Russia crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border, trying to destabilize the situation in other parts of the country as well. The voices saying that Crimea should be separated from Ukraine and annexed to the Russian Federation are becoming louder and louder. In a few days, a “referendum” awaits us, which should prove 80% support for this idea.”, – said the bishop of Odesa-Simferopol, assuming that the secession of Crimea from Ukraine “is only the beginning”; he further predicted a similar fate for the eastern and southern regions and the possible occupation of the entire country by the Russian Federation. Bishop Bronislav called Putin’s actions part of his broader policy, known since the wars in 1992 in Transnistria and in 2008 against Georgia. At the same time, bishop criticized the EU and the USA, which expressed “deep concern” and criticism and “warnings” against Putin, doing what he expected – “nothing concrete”. Bishop Bronislav compared this lack of reaction to the situation in the 1930s, which led to the start of World War II. “Watching the development of events, I see that there is no hope that Russia will stop, and that when international forces do not help Ukraine, our only hope is God. I want to once again call on people of good will from all over the world to pray for peace in Ukraine. Let’s pray together that God’s Mercy will stop the war on the threshold of which we are standing. I call on the governments of all world states to do everything possible to stop Russia before it is too late for us and the whole world.”, – said bishop Bronislav Bernatsky.

The day after the illegal “referendum on the status of Crimea”, on March 17, 2014, Bishop Jacek Pyl entrusted the peninsula to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary during divine services. “Before the Holy Gifts, we begged for peace for our region and for leaders who would have the welfare of the residents at heart. The Catholic Church stands above all divisions, helps everyone, prays for peace and wise responsible leaders of the state. People want to live in peace and harmony first of all. Everyone aspires to a state in which social justice will reign, there will be good salaries, and above all, everyone aspires that there will be no war and the shedding of fraternal blood.”, – he informed. On March 18, the day the occupying state proclaimed the creation of the “Republic of Crimea”, Bishop Jacek appealed to the Catholic brothers of Europe for spiritual support for fellow believers in Crimea during Great Lent and said that he felt “like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane”. “I pray and hope. We need a miracle, but we also have faith and hope that God is directing history and directing this situation as well. With faith, we hope in God’s Providence: whatever happens, it will be His will, not the will of rulers and kings. After all, history is controlled by God”, – he added.

Less than a month later, in an interview with a Polish publication, Bishop Jacek Pyl talked about the situation in Crimea at the time, saying that in the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese it was necessary to publish two versions of the pastoral message for Easter, with different views on social and political realities: “One for the Odesa part, which is on the territory of Ukraine, and the second for the Crimean part, which is currently the territory of the Russian Federation”. Bishop Jacek also stated that the residents of Crimea seem to have a unequivocally negative assessment of the events on the Maidan, which, in their opinion, are the work of the “Banderivites”. “I was on the Maidan, but I did not see the people of Bandera. But they were seen by Russian television, which formed such a vision also in the inhabitants of Crimea, who all watch it.”, – he added, blaming the propaganda policy of Ukrainian television too, in particular, in the part of the stories about the empty shops on the peninsula. To the question about the possible registration of parishes according to the legislation of the occupying state, Bishop Jacek answered that the competence in such cases according to canon law lies with the bishop-ordinary who is in Odesa – “that is, already in another state”; therefore, he suggested the possible adoption of a corresponding decision by the Apostolic See, similar to those applied to dioceses in disputed territories. Also, the Crimean bishop promised pastoral care to local Greek Catholics and even believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP) in the event that their churches are closed or taken over by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC KP) – “however, not in the Ukrainian language, in order to avoid accusations of proselytism, but in Russian” (however, services in the Crimean parishes of the RCC until now in certain hours are held in Ukrainian). According to him, all 12 parishes of the RCC in Crimea acted without obstacles, but their abbots, 8 of whom were citizens of Poland and 4 of Ukraine and who had no intention of leaving the occupied peninsula, had to “secure new residence documents.” At the same time, Bishop Jacek noted that not all residents of Crimea want to become citizens of the occupying state.

At the same time, Bishop Bronislav Bernatsky of Odesa-Simferopol said in an interview for Vatican Radio that he appealed to Crimean priests not to leave their parishioners. He also added that the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Supreme Archbishop of Kyiv and Halytsk Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) asked Bishop Jacek Pyl to take under his care the faithful of Greek Catholic parishes, whose priests were forced to leave Crimea due to threats to the lives of their family members and themselves. At the same time, Bishop Bronislav noted that the composition of Catholic communities in Crimea is very diverse, and here “you can come across believers who are for Russia.” “This is a missionary territory, and there is no Christian tradition here, because the mentality here has remained Soviet. It is difficult for them to think that they should respect their own. All that remains is to talk to people, to convince them”, – he added.

Already in the second half of April 2014, there was a decrease in the number of believers participating in religious services at the parishes of the RCC in Crimea: some left the occupied peninsula, some were simply afraid to join any gatherings, not knowing how the new “authority” would treat them.

Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, RCC in Yalta

In the middle of the summer of 2014, the religious organizations of the occupied Crimea faced the question of “re-registration” in accordance with the legislation of the occupying state, which had to take place by January 1, 2015. In particular, non-citizen priests of the Russian Federation could perform their duties on the territory of the peninsula for only three months, after which they had to leave for a month and ask the local “authorities” to allow them to return to Crimea. During the meeting of the Secretariat of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which took place on October 20, 2014, chaired by the then spokesman of the UOC KP, Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zori), director of the Department of Religions and Nationalities of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, Volodymyr Yushkevich assured that the Ukrainian authorities consider Crimea temporarily occupied territory, and therefore all religious communities registered there in accordance with the legislation of Ukraine will continue to be recognized and protected by the Ukrainian government. At the same time, the occupation “authorities” refused to extend the validity period of the temporary residence permit to the abbot of the RCC parish in Simferopol, a citizen of Poland, Fr. Peter Rosokhatskyi, as a result of which he was forced to leave the Crimea; even an appeal to the “Chairman of the Republic of Crimea” Serhiy Aksyonov and “Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Crimea” Natalya Poklonska during the “inter-confessional meeting” in Simferopol did not help. The same fate was to await other Catholic monks and nuns on the peninsula by the end of the year – even those whose residence permits were to expire in the following years. In particular, due to the departure of three nuns, citizens of Ukraine and Poland, who were refused an extension of their residence permits, in November 2014, a small monastery in Simferopol, founded in March 1997 by Franciscan monks to promote pastoral care in the local parish, ceased its activities. The only priest left at the service was a Polish citizen, Fr. Krzysztof Kontek, who reported that some of his colleagues were “recommended” by the “officials” of the local “migration service” not to submit “documents” for residence. The local “authority” ignored the appeals of the faithful, insisting that only religious communities registered under the legislation of the occupying state can invite foreign (this definition also included citizens of Ukraine) priests to services – at the same time, 5 relevant applications for “re-registration” (from the spiritual administration of the Muslims of Crimea and communities of Christians of the evangelical faith) were rejected by the “Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Crimea” without explaining the reasons. However, the reason was that applications were made in Ukrainian.

Church of St. Martin RCC in Yevpatoria

In September 2014, the Russian priest of RCC Fr. Yuriy Dorogin, who served in Yalta for several years before the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, then returned to his native St. Petersburg, and in the fall of 2014 arrived for some time in his former ministry in the south of Crimea, reported that the majority of believers in Yalta and Alushta are “satisfied and they say they are at home.” According to him, two rectors left the Yalta parish – a Polish citizen who had problems with re-registration of documents, and a Ukrainian citizen who  allegedly faced attempts of blackmail by a stranger under the guise of an employee of the FSB of the Russian Federation. For that matter, Fr. Yuri noted that the Crimean parishes of the RCC will continue to be subordinated to the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese. At the same time, the Bishop of Odesa-Simferopol, Bronislav Bernatsky, in his comments to the mass media, said that many Crimean Catholics leave for the mainland of Ukraine due to the insufficient amount of goods and the increase in their prices, as well as due to difficulties with employment. In addition, people who refused to be forcibly given citizenship of the occupying state were under threat. Some Polish citizen priests were also forced to leave their parishes, some of them, such as in Yalta, due to pressure from the Russian special services.

The legal status of Crimean parishes was complicated by the fact that the Crimean occupation “authority” refused to accept documents signed by the bishop of Odessa. In particular, Iryna Demetska, “the head of the registration department of non-profit organizations of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Crimea” insisted that Odesa was a “foreign” city, therefore the parishes of the RCC could not be managed by the local bishop, and in order to obtain “legal status” from the occupying state, they would have to be subordinated to other canonical structures. At the same time, it was believed that RCC parishes in occupied Crimea could be registered on the basis of Ukrainian documents issued before the Russian occupation of the peninsula: in particular, during a meeting at the end of December 2014, the “head of the Republic of Crimea” Serhiy Aksyonov assured of this Bishop Jacek Pyl, who was to receive residence permit in the occupied Crimea. However, Moscow decided otherwise.

Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary RCC in Kerch

At the end of 2014, the mass media reported that the Apostolic See, as part of the working contacts of the state secretariat with the representative of the Russian Federation at the Holy See, reached an understanding with the authorities of the occupying state in the matter of pastoral care in Crimea: the parishes there were to be united in the so-called pastoral district, with Jacek Pyl to be appointed the district’s  delegate with the rights of a diocesan bishop. The relevant instructions were given to the Embassy of the Russian Federation at the Holy See. On December 22, 2014, Bishop Jacek Pyl was appointed in charge of the pastoral district with special status, granting him the rights of an ordinary in the occupied territory of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. He himself called his appointment a form of agreement between the Vatican and the Russian Federation in order to enable the registration of RCC parishes in the occupied Crimea without changes in terms of canon law, while adding that the parishes remain under the jurisdiction of the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese. According to the scheme proposed by the Crimean “Ministry of Justice”, all the Crimean parishes of the RCC were to be registered under the legislation of the occupying state, after which a pastoral district would be formed on the basis of three of them as a centralized organization, which would also have to receive the corresponding “registration”.

Meanwhile, the peninsula’s religious communities received permission to re-register by March 1, 2015: by that time, the occupying “authorities” had to work out “legal formulas” that would allow parishes to be “registered” on new grounds. However, as of the end of February 2015, only 9 communities of different denominations were “registered” in Crimea; no attempts to “register” any parish of the RCC were successful. At that time, in addition to Bishop Jacek Pyl, 6 priests and 5 nuns were serving in the occupied Crimea; the local “authority” promised that there would be no problems with granting Russian visas for priests from Poland who would work on the occupied peninsula. At the end of 2014 – at the beginning of 2015, Frs. Valentin Rozgon and Vadym Varfolomiyev arrived in Simferopol and Kerch from the Kamianets-Podilskyi diocese; Polish citizen Fr. Veslav Kubalsky of the mission of the oblates in Russian Pyatigorsk came to Yevpatoria; he was supposed to replace another priest – Fr. Krzysztof Buzikowski, who could not leave Crimea even to bury his father, because he was afraid that he would not be allowed back to the peninsula. As for the “re-registration” of religious communities – each of them had to be formed of at least ten people who would be recognized as citizens of the occupying state.

Ruins of the Church of the Heart of Jesus Christ in the village of Oleksandrivka, Krasnogvardiy district

At the beginning of the winter of 2015, Bishop Jacek Pyl, in response to misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the situation in the media, was forced to explain that the creation of a separate pastoral district for the faithful of the RCC in the occupied Crimea is a purely administrative, not a canonical, change. According to him, the issue of “re-registration” of parishes was “in limbo” due to frequent “personnel changes” in Crimean “departments”; a new administrative church structure was also to be registered in the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. At that time, not all parishes were able to obtain documents for churches and territories near them. “The Catholic Church in Crimea will find its place, just like the Catholic Church in Russia. Moscow is interested in the Catholic Church having its structures in Crimea,” Bishop Jacek said, noting that in 2014 he had a conversation with the Apostolic Administrator of the Southern European part of Russia, Bishop Clemens Pickel, who illegally flew to Simferopol from the territory of the Russian Federation and promised help to RCC parishes in occupied Crimea; Bishop Pyl also noted that he enlisted the support of Moscow Archbishop Paolo Pezzi – who stated as early as 2010 that in Russia “it is impossible to be Catholic without the deepest respect for the Russian Orthodox Church, without the most sincere and ardent desire to unite with it”, and in July 2011, he received Russian citizenship. Bishop Jacek also thanked the “head of Crimea” Serhii Aksyonov for expediting Russian visas for priests who were supposed to serve in the occupied Crimea – in particular, for the already mentioned Fr. Peter Rosokhatskyi. At the same time, he appealed to the residents of mainland Ukraine not to condemn the clergy and believers who remained in Crimea, “preach the Word of God, do not interfere in politics, want to be good Christians and strive to live in peace and harmony with everyone.” “I am generally amazed: it is the 21st century, there is advanced technology, mass media, communications – and still various problems are solved with the help of war. This is primitive, since progress is supposed to solve everything without weapons. Some people left the peninsula – especially those who thought there would be repression about belief or religion. Even families were divided: some stayed, others left. But now many are returning, regretting that they panicked and ran away. People here are very worried about this whole situation, but please understand: it does not depend on them. Now there is an information war going on: Russian television shows one thing, Ukrainian television shows something completely different, and real life is still different. Leave judgment to God – He sees better,” said Bishop Jacek Pyl, who directly used the term “annexation of Crimea” in media comments. In general, according to him, the number of believers of the RCC on the peninsula was about a thousand people. The bishop shared some nuances of the religious life of Catholics in Crimea. Thus, in Yevpatoria, the local “authority” allowed believers to walk through the streets of the city in a procession of the Feast of Corpus Christi, but the city “prosecutor’s office” at the same time asked that the procession not turn into a demonstration.

Parish of the Mother of God of Perpetual Help in the village of Lobanov, Dzhankoy district

On April 1, 2015, the Federation Council of the Russian Federation approved the legislative amendments adopted by the State Duma of the Russian Federation, which extended the deadline for the “re-registration” of religious organizations in the occupied Crimea until January 1, 2016. On April 8, the expert conclusions of the Council on State Religious Expertise under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation regarding RCC parishes in Crimea were made public, stating the following: “In December 2014, taking into account the inclusion of Crimea in the Russian Federation, a separate pastoral district was created in the republic. <…> According to the information submitted to the Expert Council of the State Secretariat of the Vatican, the district is removed from the jurisdiction of the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese and is directly subordinated to the State Secretariat”. At the end of July 2015, Bishop Jacek Pyl, still positioning himself as the assistant bishop of the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese of the RCC, said that in June all 9 parishes in the occupied Crimea were “re-registered” according to the legislation of the occupying state, after which one of the priests had to go to Moscow to register the pastoral district. In this matter, help was provided by the already mentioned Russian Archbishop of the RCC Paolo Pezzi and the then Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation Ivan Yurkovich, who was the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine in 2004–2011. Bishop Jacek also expressed his concern about the provision regarding the ban on the entry of foreign citizens to the occupied Crimea. adopted on June 4, 2015: he encountered such a problem himself. Only on September 16, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, by Resolution No. 722, provided for the possibility of foreign priests to enter Crimea to carry out religious activities, but with a significant caveat: entry to and exit from the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine is possible only through checkpoints on mainland Ukraine with a passport and a special permit issued by the territorial body of the State Migration Service of Ukraine.

Memorial plaque in memory of Bishop Alexander Frizon (1875-1937) on the wall of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary chapel in Simferopol

On November 9, 2015, Bishop Jacek Pyl met with Volodymyr Ryabykh, “head of the Department of Nationalities and Religions of the Department of Internal Policy of the Government of Sevastopol.” During the meeting, issues related to the life of the Catholic community and the spiritual development of Sevastopol were discussed. Bishop Jacek thanked the “government” of Sevastopol for the assistance to the Catholic community, including in the “legal registration” of the parish of St. Clement in the city and the pastoral district of the RCC in the occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. He also presented the “official” with a rosary consecrated by Pope Francis and icons of St. John Paul II. At the same time, the bishop noted the “warm” relations with the UOC MP community and the local “authorities”, and promised to tell Pope Francis about them during the planned meeting. These gestures of the Crimean Catholic bishop gave some Ukrainian media persons a reason to announce the alleged “official recognition of the Crimean “authority” by the Vatican.” The representatives of the RCC had to respond to such criticisms. They urged not to regard the church as an organization subject to the rules of “not entirely morally pure” political rules of the game, and not to ignore centuries of theory and practice of church teachings regarding public life. According to observers, further development of the topic could cause tangible damage to specific people and the RCC both in Crimea and in general, and “give a trump card to our eastern neighbors.” “Crimea remains part of the Odesa-Simferopol Diocese. Bishop Jacek Pyl belongs to the Conference of Bishops of Ukraine and is the head of the Liturgical Commission of the RCC in Ukraine. The task of any bishop is to provide for the religious needs of the local faithful, whom the church cannot abandon. Whatever the political conditions, the business of the Church is to proclaim the Word of God to all people, regardless of circumstances, geopolitics, nationality, etc. The Church will not allow itself to be drawn into political disputes, because it is Universal and serves all people.”, – said the comment of the editor-in-chief of the “CREDO” site, Fr. Mykola Myshovskyi. The general director of the Vatican Radio, Fr. Federico Lombardi also privided his opinion on the situaiton. He stated the following: «”In order to avoid any polemic of territorial orientation, it can be emphasized that the usual practice of the church is to take care of the pastoral needs of its faithful, no matter where they are. It goes without saying that this also involves solving issues of an administrative and technical nature, which, however, in no way include taking positions of a political or territorial nature. In addition, the Holy See, taking into account the role it plays in the international community, is not in the habit of directly interfering in matters of this nature, submitting rather to the decisions of the international community in these matters and reserving the right to indicate the ethical principles that should inspire relations between states As far as Ukraine is concerned, the position of the Holy See is clearly and regularly emphasized during public speeches, and remains unchanged today.”».

Consecration of a memorial in memory of Catholic priests who served in Simferopol since 1812, at the Old Cemetery. November 2, 2019

On March 24, 2016, the rector of the RCC parish in Simferopol, Fr. Daniil Myslentsev, a citizen of the Russian Federation, who previously served in Belarus and Russian Kaliningrad, held a single picket near the building of the “city administration” of Simferopol with the demand to provide the Catholic community with land for the construction of a church; in his hands he held a crucifix and a poster with the inscription “Catholics are not Martians, but natives of Simferopol.” Back in January, during a meeting with representatives of the city and regional “authorities”, Fr. Daniel received a promise to resolve the matter within a week, which was not fulfilled. Throughout Great Lent, the parishioners prayed for a successful solution to this issue, after which they expressed their intention to hold a rally at the “administration” of Simferopol, but the abbot took the initiative solely on himself so that the community would not have problems. 15 minutes after the start of the action, a representative of the “department for religious affairs” came to the priest, but Fr. Daniil did not hear anything new from him and expressed his fear that he will not be able to restrain the emotions of his parishioners, who are outraged by the fact that some commercial organizations and other denominations in the occupied Crimea have nothing to prevent them from carrying out construction even in the park zone. After the action by Fr. Daniil, the representatives of the “administration” of Simferopol not only condemned his act, but also demanded from his parishioners to give an assessment of his actions in writing; however, the congregation refused to speak against their rector. According to the priest, back in December 2015, a delegation of the European Parliament and journalists came to Crimea. Local “officials” showed to the members of the delegation, using the example of the Catholic community, how everything was good on the occupied peninsula, and promised to provide options for land plots for the construction of a Catholic church; right after the delegation left, the representatives of the “authority” stopped communicating with the abbot and the head of the community. These actions of “officials” Fr. Daniel connected with their “special mentality” — that is, they will not do anything unless they are ordered from above or it is related to profit.

In August 2019, the archbishop (now metropolitan) of the Simferopol and Crimean OCU Klyment announced that the city “authority” of Simferopol had given the RCC a plot of land that had been granted back in 2013 for the construction of the UOC KP cathedral. According to the Crimean bishop of the OCU, an unnamed priest who arrived in Crimea from St. Petersburg in 2014 was actively looking for a plot of land for the construction of a Catholic church. «He knew that this land belonged to the Orthodox. They were offered three plots of land. They settled on the one that was previously given to the Crimean Diocese [UPC KP] for the cathedral. Upon my inquiries, Aksyonov was informed that this land belongs to the city. And the city gave an answer that they will not say to whom exactly they gave this plot of land, because it was against Russian legislation. And I have to prove that this plot belongs to me», – archbishop Clement complained. The Simferopol parish of the RCC reported that they are indeed planning to build a cathedral on the mentioned site, which is the property of the city and is leased by the religious community. «The land was acquired a long time ago by the usual procedure of giving to religious organizations. We do not know exactly which plot belonged to the OCU», – parish representatives added. In November 2020, this time Metropolitan Kliment returned to this topic, casually declaring his negative attitude towards representatives of the Crimean Catholic communities of both rites due to their “pragmatism” and “lack of patriotism”, and added that the former “Vice Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea” Ruslan Balbek , inducing him to cooperate with the Crimean “authorities” in 2014, allegedly informed about a secret order from Moscow to support the Catholic Church on the occupied peninsula. «Half a hectare of land, which in April 2013 was given to the UOC KP for the construction of a cathedral in Simferopol, was given to Catholics in August 2019. They know that the plot was set aside for the Orthodox, but they take it. And when there is a scandal, they accuse me of slander and demand that I give up the land, because they have already invested money there», – Metropolitan Kliment told.

At the time of the full-scale military invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, the last message on the official website of the pastoral district of the RCC in Crimea is dated March 15, 2022 – the announcement of the consecration, on March 25, by Pope Francis of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In April, Bishop Jacek Pyl was in Odesa to “take care of certain formalities” and was waiting for the opportunity to return to Crimea, where it was necessary to “be ready for martyrdom.” As he has done for many years, he emphasized that the church cannot be used for politics; the church prays for peace and preaches the truth – while adding, as he once did: “But that does not mean that I am satisfied with this situation” – apparently referring to the Russian war against Ukraine, and noted at the same time that loving the enemies does not mean supporting their actions. The bishop, as he did a few years ago, called not to condemn people who remained in Crimea after 2014 – since no one knows their intentions, and patriotism does not consist in leaving your home in the occupied territory. «Now is the time to test our faith, our love for our country. The spilled blood of Abel will not bring blessing to the earth and will not give spiritual peace to the bearers of aggression», – noted Bishop Jacek. And it is impossible not to agree with these words. Whether the archpastor will be able to return to his faithful is difficult to say at the moment, just like when the occupied Crimea will return to Ukraine. In both cases, all that remains is to pray and wait.

P. S. During the preparation of this material, it became known that on July 12, following the results of the meeting of the section on neutralization of internal threats to national security of the scientific council under the Security Council of the Russian Federation, a number of measures were proposed to combat foreign religious organizations that “have a negative impact on Russian society.” In particular, it was proposed to intensify the work on identifying the mechanisms of the use by foreign states of the activities of religious associations to interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation. At a meeting of the Russian Security Council, the facts of the negative impact on the situation in the country of some foreign and Russian organizations under their control, which carry out “destructive activities” under the guise of humanitarian, educational, cultural, national and religious projects, were presented; it was not specified which organizations it was about. At the same time, it was stated that “permissiveness and the use of religious dogmas for negative purposes that give rise to religious extremism” are practiced in the religious sphere, and that “the expansion of the influence of radical religious concepts on Russian society” allegedly causes threats to national security. The issue of enshrining in Russian legislation basic concepts such as “religious destructive sect”, “foreign religious organization”, “traditional / non-traditional religion (denomination)”, “religious extremism”, “religious radicalism” and ” religious fundamentalism” was singled out as a promising direction of scientific development in order to counter “radical” religious concepts.

Earlier, on April 27, the deputy of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Dmytriy Medvedev, accused the “collective West” of an attempt to allegedly set up the hierarchs of various branches of Christianity against Russia, stating that, for Western countries, the protection of freedom of religion “has long become a routine political tool of pressure on modern Russia” and that in today’s Europe, traditional Christian values are “subjected to a catastrophic devaluation and obvious exposure”, which, according to Medvedev, gives some reason to consider Russia as a “bulwark of the Christian world in general”. At the same time, he praised the former Apostolic Nuncio to the USA, Archbishop Carl Maria Vigano, who actually acts as “Putin’s advocate”, for “directly revealing the role of NATO in the inciting of the Kyiv regime against Donbas” and “exposing the topic of support for neo-Nazi formations in Ukraine since 2014, which is taboo in the West”. Medvedev also praised the head of the international humanitarian organization “Samaritan’s Bag” Franklin Graham – for “expressing his understanding of the reasons for the denazification of Ukraine”. In addition, Medvedev stated that a similar point of view is shared by many other priests and hierarchs who “are afraid to make official statements so far.” One can only expect with fear the consequences of such statements by the authorities of the aggressor state for members of religious communities in the territories of Ukraine occupied by it.

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Sergii Konashevich

Author of numerous culturological publications, editor of Ukrainian Culture Publishing House LLC

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