Pope urges ‘respect’ for Orthodox monastery facing eviction in Kyiv

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis called for “respect” of religious sites in Ukraine, as he mentioned the monastery from which the Russian-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is facing eviction.

Ukrainian authorities have given the UOC a March 29 deadline to vacate its headquarters in the historic Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex, in the latest move against a denomination the government says is pro-Russian and collaborating with Moscow.

Referring specifically to the Lavra monastery, Francis asked “the warring parties [in Ukraine] to respect religious sites”, and praised people who devote their lives to prayer, “be they of whatever denomination”.

The pope made the remarks during his weekly address to crowds in St Peter’s Square. In an apparent slip up, he referred to the “nuns” of the monastery, which is actually home to male Orthodox priests.

On March 11, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a staunch supporter of Russia’s invasion, had asked Francis and other religious leaders to persuade Ukraine to stop its crackdown against the UOC.

The Security Service of Ukraine has since October carried out searches at UOC churches, imposed sanctions on its bishops and financial backers, and opened criminal cases against dozens of clergymen.

Church officials say it and its millions of worshippers are victims of a witch-hunt.

Orthodoxy is the primary faith in Ukraine and the Moscow-linked UOC has been in competition for worshippers with an independent Orthodox Church, founded after the Soviet collapse in 1991 but only recognised by church hierarchy in 2018.

The independent church has been gaining in size and following since the invasion.

A priest walks past golden domes arranged over pallets on the side of a building at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine. Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture released a statement on 10 March 2023 saying that the National Reserve ‘Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra’ sent a warning to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) about the termination of a July 2013 agreement on the free use of religious buildings and other property that is owned by the state by a religious organization, adding that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church must vacate the state-owned premises it leases on monastery grounds by 29 March. EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

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