Listen to this BosNewsLife News report via Vatican Radio:
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Devoted Christian leaders and missionaries have pleaded for prayers and reconciliation in Ukraine where at least three anti-government demonstrators have been killed in the capital Kyiv during clashes with riot police.
Protesters were also encouraged to read the Bible, which was difficult to obtain when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. Russian Ministries, a major mission group, told BosNewsLife it has begun distributing “special editions of Scripture for those protesting in Kyiv”, the capital.
Elsewhere in Kyiv songs and prayers reverberated as the human remains of a protester were rushed to an awaiting vehicle in downtown Kyiv. Priests could be seen trying to comfort survivors.
Among those praying were priests of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, despite threats by the government to outlaw the denomination for being involved in the protests.
“Many of the Churches, including the Catholic Church – especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – have been present through their clergy with the people,” confirmed Bishop Borys Gudziak, of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saint Wladimir-Le-Grand de Paris.
The bishop, who visited Kyiv last month, said protesters “have asked for priests to be present, to pray, to hear confessions.”
“Services are held, priests are listeners, they’re counselors,” he added. Yet it was often difficult for priests to halt the violence, with police firing at protesters, who have demanded the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovich for refusing to establish closer ties with the European Union.
Ukrainian officials and medical workers said of the three protesters known to have died, at least two of them from bullet wounds. They were reportedly found in a nearby national library. One of them, a 20-year-old man, had gun shot wounds to the head, witnesses said.
“The situation in Ukraine is extremely tense. Peace is extremely fragile and the church can play a reconciling role on behalf of all Christians of Ukraine,” explained Gregory Komendant, an elder statesman of the country’s evangelical church, in remarks monitored by BosNewsLife Thursday, January 23.
“I am calling on the global Christian community for prayer and support at this critical time for our nation,” added Komendant, who was described as playing a crucial role in uniting generations and churches during the Soviet-era.
He spoke shortly after some 150 participating leaders issued a statement last week urging protesters and the government to heed God’s commands of love and forgiveness “without which the demand for equity may end up with chaos and violence.”
Russian Ministries, which distributed the statement, said it had gathered leaders of various Ukrainian churches and Christian groups, including youngsters, to discuss how churches could play a role in reconciliation.
“We wanted to create a platform for constructive dialogue of this situation [and] to discuss these young leaders’ identity, responsibilities, and understanding of the doctrinal position related to this crisis,” said Russian Ministries’ President Sergey Rakhuba.
Yet it has done little to restore calm to the blood-and-snow covered streets of central Kyiv, though priests could be seen braving winter weather near police cordons to pray and call for peace.
The government and police have denied they are responsible for the violence or deaths of protesters.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said however that the “EU is shocked by the deaths.”
He has warned Ukraine’s government of possible EU sanctions following the recent adoption of recent anti-protest legislation, which he said included a crackdown on media and freedom of expression.
“We will continue following closely these developments as well as assess possible actions by the EU and consequences for our relations with that country.”
Washington has also expressed outrage over deadly clashes.
The U.S. embassy in Ukraine revoking visas of several Ukrainians who were allegedly linked to previous violence against protesters in November and December.
President Yanukovich on Wednesday unexpectedly offered to talk with opposition leaders, though the meeting failed to resolve the stand-off
Ukrainian heavyweight boxing champion-turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko had said he would lead pro-EU protesters “on the attack” unless the government calls for early elections.
Amid the political turmoil and ongoing street battles, Russian Ministries said it had urged the “global Christians and churches to pray for Ukraine, her churches and people.”
The missionaries said it was crucial to pray for the “wisdom for the government [and] wisdom for church leaders” as well as for “reconciliation between all parties, the safety for protesters” and that Ukrainians will “view this as an opportunity to repent”.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
Please help BosNewsLife to be the voice of the voiceless, also this New(s) Year . Click here for a subscription.
Follow BosNewsLife via Twitter