In this interview originally published by Radio Vatican, Bishop Bohdan Dziurakh, the secretary of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod of Bishops, shares his thoughts on the new encyclical from the Pope of Rome, Francis’, titled “Fratelli Tutti.” The interview was conducted by Svitlana Dukhovych and was translated with her permission for the St. Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship.
Conflicts and warfare, peace building, the migrant crisis, an unfair distribution of wealth, unemployment, attitudes toward the elderly, a future for young people, care for the environment, and the pandemic are just a few themes that Pope Francis considered in his new encyclical Fratelli Tutti. The Holy Father’s newest reflections, which are grounded in the Gospels, propose a new way to solve these problems: “a new logic, a new mentality, which the pope calls ‘social love.’”
What are the phenomena of our time that were important enough for Pope Francis to address is Fratelli Tutti?
I am very happy to share a few thoughts on the new social encyclical from Pope Francis. It is, of course, very important and relevant. I would say it’s radically pro-Gospel. One might say this is the prophetic voice of the Church which humanity needs to hear today. The world is changing before our eyes at breakneck speed. Unfortunately, technological progress doesn’t always correspond with progress of ethics or soul; therefore, the world falls into crises, deadlocks, and conflicts over and over. And these crises affect, above all, ordinary people. These crises are long-standing: countless conflicts in much of the world, famine, and injustice. There are also more contemporary crises like recessions, depressions, the coronavirus pandemic, and what Pope Francis calls the “‘third world war’ fought piecemeal" (Italian: la Terza guerra mondiale a pezzi). So the recent encyclical is very timely and relevant. In my opinion, the Holy Father echoes the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, whose Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World underscores that “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted...are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Gaudium et Spes, 1).
So as a true evangelical disciple of Christ, the Pontiff makes “the joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties of our present humanity” his own. The Pope himself admits at the beginning of the encyclical that issues related to fraternity and social friendship have always been among his concerns. This is what the Pope has concerned himself with in recent years. In this encyclical, he’s just collecting all of his thoughts and putting them into a global context. It is also extremely valuable that the Pope outlines concrete ways of overcoming these crises, challenges, and problems of modern humanity in his encyclical. It’s a formula directly from the gospels: the Pope calls it “social love,” a new mentality and logic. It’s refreshing and appealing to hear this kind of Gospel relevance in an encyclical.
The Holy Father recalls the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of brotherly love that dismantles barriers and borders. What parts of society personify the injured man from the parable, and how is the Church called to help?
Globally speaking, I think we can consider our own [Ukrainian] people among those who embody the poor man who has been cast on the side of the path of history, doomed more than once to injustice, suffering, plunder, and humiliation. Our whole people are the image of that beaten man who is waiting for God's mercy and human solidarity. On the other hand, even within our Ukrainian society, there are vulnerable people who especially embody the man from the parable.
For example, the Holy Father said that elderly people are treated as disposable, leading them in pain and in loneliness. The Pope talks about massive amounts of food getting thrown away, and in the same process how people become “throwaway.” He also recalls how disposable people were treated during the pandemic around the world, especially the elderly. “They did not have to die that way,” writes the Pope. Our isolation from older people, ignoring their needs—their fundamental needs—demonstrates a failure of the state, society, and our local communities. By separating ourselves from them, we deprive ourselves of the wisdom which younger people cannot obtain from themselves.
Another group addressed in the encyclical are young people who are often denied opportunities to realize their dreams, aspirations, and life plans through lack of access to good education and dignified labor.
A third category of people are, of course, the unemployed. They often become transient—migrant workers who leave their homes and families behind in order to find the means for themselves and their loved ones to survive. The Pope underscores how important it is to give attention to these people. It’s not enough just to give them jobs, we must also ensure their well-being. They must also be empowered to sow the seeds that God has given them, according to their abilities, initiative, strengths, and potential for growth that all humans have. The best way to help those in need is to assure them dignified and appropriate work with fair wages. The Pope has said that charity can be a transitional means to meet people’s most pressing needs, but the real goal of public policy should be to enable people to live a dignified life by means of honorable labor.
Finally, the victims of invasion, military conquest, and occupation, the disabled, service members, their families, and people with deep-seated traumas—physical, psychological, spiritual—also need healing. The Pope specifically speaks about how reparations and peace building must be established on a foundation of truth, because truth is the vehicle of compassion and justice. Truth, justice, and compassion are inseparable from one another, and you can’t build peace or foster healing without these three principles.
So we see how there are a lot of themes that merit our attention and reflection. Most importantly, we must embody the postulates that the Pope has declared on behalf of the entire Catholic church. The Church is a voice of all who are suffering, serving as the conscience to the rich, who, in many ways, have rejected basic moral principles and have been blinded to the needs of average people by their thirst for excessive wealth. The wealthy do not treat others with gratitude, offering them care and support as they should, but as burdens. The Pope says it best, “when one part of society exploits all that the world has to offer, acting as if the poor did not exist, there will eventually be consequences. Sooner or later, ignoring the existence and rights of others will erupt in some form of violence, often when least expected. (219)”
I would very much like to see the Catholic Church, especially in Ukraine, have enough evangelical audacity to run with these themes proposed by the Holy Father. There is a lot to improve in our local environments and in our society. Fortunately, the Pope isn’t calling on us to do anything that extraordinary. I was personally struck by a phrase of the Holy Father: "if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. (195)” If every person helped at least one other person, then the fact is that our world will become fairer, kinder, and much more peaceful.
Is there an example of brotherhood and social love that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church can provide the universal Church?
St. Augustine once wrote “I can only share that which I live by.” What does our Church live by? Our Church attempts to, in its own way, take the “joys and hopes, trials and tribulations” of society and live up to serving them. This is where the social role of the Church is most manifest. We have a longstanding Tradition, beginning with Metropolitan Sembratovych, elevated further by the ascetic guidance of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, and through the witnessing faith of Patriarch Josyf. Once Ukraine declared independence, our Church has also gained newfound strength from broader society, revealed through moments of crisis.
After the Revolution of Dignity (the 2013-214 Euromaidan revolution), it was amazing to see Razumkov Center polling demonstrate that the UGCC is the most socially-conscious Church in all of Ukraine. Of course, we’re doing our best to quickly and effectively live up to the challenges that stand before the Ukrainian people, most importantly guiding each person wherever they may be, protecting against all threats to their innate dignity, freedoms, and fundamental rights.
There are many examples, including our strong opposition to wage theft, through our calls to broader ecological justice, and through our constant presence as new challenges arise related to war, environmental disasters, or this pandemic. It is gratifying that our communities around the world have been supporting these efforts in solidarity with one another, not only in Ukraine. In countries where people have migrated, or wherever people have made a home, our communities have established great networks of solidarity and mutual aid. Same when it comes to looking for work, legal help, social assistance, or just any other human support. For example, in Italy, there is a very eloquent bishop, Dionisiy (Lyakhovych). He recently shared how people who’ve managed to hold onto their jobs amidst the pandemic are taking in others who have lost their jobs, taken in the evicted, and fed the homeless.
But as you rightly noted, the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us to go outside of our ethnic and religious ghettos. We’re making progress on this. In the most recent regional online conferences between our bishops, many postulates regarding our Church’s openness to the outside world have revealed themselves. We can’t only pay attention to ourselves, to our own communities, to our own needs, to the maintenance of our own identities, or to the fulfillment of our own needs.
This is clearly a new level of discourse which has already led to certain concrete actions, foremost in the realm of social service. This is the dialogue that the Holy Father has called us to and encourages in his encyclical. He says that, on one hand, our consciousness is based in dignity and the values of our own identities, knowing who we are, but on the other hand to open ourselves up to other people in respect, valuing diversity and the values of others: other nations, other cultures, other religious Traditions; and therefore weave our own brotherly relationships of social love. We have to help people, regardless of their ethnic or religious belonging—really no matter what their attitudes are to religion. That’s what the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us: the Good Samaritan stopped because he saw before him a suffering, needy person, and we must also learn to stop and care. We have plenty to share. To serve, all we need to do is open the doors to our hearts and hands. I have hope that we will continue to learn how to do this better.